Meet Europe's new supercomputer: MareNostrum 5 takes on global rivals for power

Barcelona will be home to the new supercomputer with 200 petaflops peak performance.
Written by Anna Solana, Contributor

At the end of 2020, Barcelona, home to the famous soccer club, should also have the Lionel Messi of supercomputing. By then, the former chapel that currently houses the MareNostrum 4 will host the fifth version of the supercomputer.

The new high-performance computer will be one of the most powerful machines in the world, capable of 200 petaflops, or 200 1,015 floating-point operations per second. The US's Summit current leads the Top 500 supercomputer list with 143.5 petaflops.

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With MareNostrum 5, Europe will have a pre-exascale supercomputer that includes an experimental platform to create technologies for future generations of supercomputers.

"Europe needs to develop hardware and, more specifically, European processors that give the continent technological independence," said Mateo Valero, director of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, at a conference on Monday to unveil the machine.

This platform is one of the key reasons why the EuroHPC pan-European supercomputing initiative is planning to invest about €100m ($113m) in the project. The rest of the supercomputer's €223m ($253m) cost will be borne by the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, the Catalan Government, and the states that supported the bid: Portugal, Turkey, and Croatia.

Roberto Viola, the European Commission's technology director general, said the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking to make this project a reality "will help scientists tackle research projects of great relevance to society in fields as diverse as climate change, personalized medicine, neurosciences or cosmology, among others".

Viola said the EU has invested in three pre-exascale machines with a peak performance of at least 150 petaflops and five petascale supercomputers of at least four petaflops.

He acknowledged that the EU's investment will not be enough to meet US and Asian competition in supercomputing. But he said in 2021 the EU will contribute €3bn ($3.4bn), in addition to the €3bn contributed by member states to ensure Europe maintains a strong position in the international supercomputing field.

MareNostrum 5 represents a leap in scale over the former and current Barcelona machines. Its power of 200 petaflops is 17 times higher than the one of the current MareNostrum 4 supercomputers and 10,000 times greater than the machine that started the series in 2004, MareNostrum 1.

MareNostrum 5's architecture is planned to be based on two large clusters, one for jobs that require a large computing capacity and one for real-time data analysis. The two clusters could be used at the same time for personalized medicine projects or to simulate energy generation processes.

Because the machine will be physically bigger, it will be located in the chapel of Torre Girona, headquarters of MareNostrum 4, as well as in the basement of the center's corporate building in the Polytechnic University of Catalonia.

The new supercomputer will require the construction of a new electrical substation because it will require more power than MareNostrum 4. MareNostrum 5 will use 1MW of electricity annually, with power and cooling costs of €1.5m ($1.7m) per year.

Barcelona Supercomputing Center researcher Ulises Cortés tells ZDNet. "People think a supercomputer has a lot of electricity costs but they don't ask what the Camp Nou [Barcelona FC's soccer stadium] spends during a football game."

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