The currency of the digital era is data; and there is enormous potential for organisations that can profit from this revolution. According to IDC, companies that manage their data archives effectively could achieve nine billion euros in extra revenue, compared to companies that fail to do so. While data volumes are growing exponentially, the struggle to build machines that are powerful enough to process billions of operations per second has begun.
Europe finds itself amid a digital economic revolution and High Performance Computing (HPC) is the core of many great technological breakthroughs in this field. This has allowed the European continent to rapidly become one of the forerunners in this computing race, with major players throughout Europe trumping one another in the development of the fastest machines. In last year’s TOP500, supercomputers from Switzerland and Germany entered the Top 10, alongside to machines from China, the United States and Japan. In France, we are working together with the French Committee for Alternative Energy and Nuclear Energy (CEA) in developing the Bull Sequana: a building block for new exascale supercomputers, which is are world’s most efficient supercomputers.
These machines play a crucial role in creating models and simulations of complex phenomena within sectors such as engineering, meteorology, healthcare and oil and gas. In this way, they clear the path for applying supercomputing to business models and for redefining their industries. For example, HPC is used in the Dutch shipping industry to reduce the time it takes to determine the correct design specifications, significantly decreasing overall testing costs.
A torrent of data
As the result of the explosive growth of smart devices – because of which we live and work in a world where everything is connected – the amount of data is increasing at unprecedented levels. Or, as our CEO Thierry Breton recently expressed it, soon there will be more data than grains of sand on the planet.
This data has the potential to create an enormous added value for companies, and to help them improve processes and create a superior customer experience. Only companies that have the capacity and resources to open up and analyse large quantities of datasets will be able to stimulate innovation and make a difference in the “connected era.”
Supercomputing will make it possible to process huge volumes of information and to identify trends. This causes it to have a very strong influence in academic circles and scientific research, where large-scale simulations are necessary. However, it is not only academics and scientists who use HPC; there are also numerous business applications.
What are the most important considerations for leading industrial parties if they wish to make maximal use of the potential of supercomputers?
While many companies will be collaborating with universities or other companies to build physical supercomputers, they will still need people on the inside with the right software and programming skills to be able to apply them effectively. At Bull, we are supporting the industry with the launch of the Centre for Excellence in Parallel Programming (CEPP). As part of the CEPP, our team, consisting of 300 specialists, is trained to assist users in improving the efficiency of their supercomputers.
Secondly, to function properly, supercomputers need robust and reliable cooling systems. These cooling systems cause the supercomputer’s energy bill to increase by 50 to 75 percent. In response to this, tech giants have focussed their attention on the Artic Circle and Google has invested over a billion dollars in its Hamina data centre in Finland. Its access to geothermal and hydroelectric power, free cooling and millisecond connectivity with the United States and Europe has made Iceland an increasingly popular location for data centres. There are other methods as well: direct cooling by water makes it possible to make use of free cooling in European environments as well. Only a fraction of the energy is required for this. The Sequana DLC cooling system is capable of channelling away the supercomputer’s heat even during the hottest of summers.
Data – the black gold of a digital Europe
Once these challenges have been conquered, breakthroughs will be achieved in numerous markets with the assistance of supercomputing. For progressive players who have begun applying supercomputing, tangible business advantages are being realised now already.
Supercomputing is used in the Netherlands to predict the weather for the coming 48 hours in less than 90 minutes. HPC is applied in the oil and gas industry with seismic visualisations, a technique that is based on the reflection of sound waves from underground rock formations to determine the location of new sources of energy. When you consider that the cost of drilling a pipeline could run into millions of dollars, technological solutions become increasingly important!
As these examples show, HPC is an integral component of the digitalisation of the European economy. Of course, the industry is still at a very early stage and obstacles must be overcome before supercomputers can be used on a larger scale. If companies will do something about the deficit of the necessary skills, the energy consumption and improved cooling, these powerful machines have enormous potential for solving the industrial, scientific and social challenges of the future!