Amount of 20 million euros should give national supercomputer a higher position

The government is investing eighteen million euros in the construction of a new national supercomputer, an amount that will be supplemented by the SURF organization with two million euros. The investment should make the supercomputer a lot more powerful.

According to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science van Engelshoven, the investment is necessary because the current supercomputer is outdated and urgently needs to be replaced. “The scientists who depend on the national supercomputer for their research, from fields such as climate science, theoretical chemistry and astronomy, must be able to remain internationally competitive.”

The minister mentions an increase in capacity by a factor of 5.5 to 7.8 and a renewed position in the top fifty of the Top 500 of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. In the current list, the current national supercomputer, Cartesius, ranks 360. That system reached its highest position in 2014 after an upgrade. Then place 45 was reached.

According to Peter Michielse, chief technology officer of SURF, the above figures should not be taken too seriously. “A high ranking is not a goal for us. We want to serve a wide range of researchers from different domains and are looking for a general purpose machine.” According to him, the said improvement by a factor of 5.5 to 7.8 is based on a very conservative estimate and he thinks that the ultimate speed increase could be higher. According to him, the appointment of the listing in the Top500 is the result of the fact that the supercomputer in the past came into the top fifty after investments.

“In any case, we are happy with the investment. Cartesius is now fully occupied and we have been preparing for the replacement for months. For example, we have already selected the set of benchmarks that suppliers should use in the tender,” says Michielse. These are benchmarks that are representative of the scientific calculations that researchers run.

Michielse: “The important component is the application performance. Consumption is also a criterion. For example, the data center at the Science Park where the cluster will be located is green and we will again use water cooling and heat and cold storage. The new system will also GPU cluster. At Cartesius, that cluster makes up about twelve percent of the performance and we will increase that share of GPUs.” According to Michielse, the increasing use of GPUs is indispensable for the development towards pre-exascale performance. The peak computing power of the most powerful supercomputers is heading for exaflops, or a billion billion flops.

What the new national supercomputer will actually look like and how it will perform will depend on the outcome of the tender. The aim is to start using the cluster in the first quarter of 2020.

Part of the current national supercomputer, Cartesius