Wednesday

2nd Dec 2020

Opinion

Taking full benefit of supercomputers in Europe

  • EU funding for new 'supercomputing' can help SMEs that would never be able to afford it by themselves (Photo: Michael Schwarzenberger)

Companies able to take full advantage of digital infrastructures, process and disseminate digital products and services will be the ones who will benefit the most of today's data economy and society.

However, among today's digital industry giants (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft), none of them is European.

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  • Digital commissioner Mariya Gabriel (Photo: European Commission)

This is one of the reasons why the Digital Single Market is one of the top priorities of the European Commission.

It is also why the European Union needs to build, as soon as possible, state of the art digital infrastructures including a world-class European supercomputers infrastructure, built around super powerful and efficient machines able to process large amounts of data, and perform calculations thousands of times faster than a normal computer.

I am hopeful that the EU can make real progress under the Bulgarian presidency which has put digital high on its agenda for the next six months.

Already today supercomputers allow our society to take advantage of innovations in health care, engineering, renewable energy, car safety and cybersecurity and other technologies.

The applications are countless and I am pleased that European citizens can already benefit from them.

High-performance computing allows us, for instance, to design and simulate the effects of new drugs, provide faster diagnosis and better treatments and predict future epidemics.

Slovenian doctors used supercomputing infrastructure to massively accelerate genetic diagnostics, passing from more than one month to less than a few days, sometimes just a day.

Supercomputing helps health diagnosis

The use of supercomputers also allowed more comprehensive analysis of genetic material, which is crucial for diagnostics of patients with severe epilepsy, of critically-ill new-borns, in pre-natal diagnostics and for precision treatment of people with rare diseases.

Supercomputers are equally used for ever higher resolution simulation in climate change, for example, studying the behaviour of the oceans, weather forecasting and earth resource evolution.

Simulations like these are useful for early warning of storms and for long-term climate scenarios and adaptation strategies concerning climate change.

They are also a resource for improving our knowledge of geophysical processes and the structure of the interior of the Earth.

Life-saving earthquake predictions

In Italy, for example, an international team of researchers has developed a model of the lithosphere below the entirety of Italy based on highly accurate seismic wave imaging, providing a greater understanding of earthquakes in the region.

I am persuaded that this technology can help us saving hundreds of lives.

Car makers are now focussing on the future smart mobility: driverless cars. With the huge amount of data these cars will exchange, evaluated at more than four terabytes (approximatively the amount of data you can put on 1,000 DVDs) in about an hour and a half of driving, this sector will become a huge supercomputers user.

These are only few examples showing the increasing potential of supercomputers. And as a response to the exponential growth in data, high-performance computing is already moving towards its next frontier - from petascale to exascale - at least 10 times faster than the fastest machines currently in operation and more than 100 times faster than the fastest machines available in the EU.

However not all EU countries have the capacity to build and maintain such infrastructure, or to develop exascale technologies.

Moreover, overall, Europe is even losing its place in the top rankings for high-performance computing infrastructure capabilities, having been overtaken by China, the US and Japan.

Without world-class supercomputing facilities, Europe will not achieve its ambition of becoming a vibrant data economy.

Europe cannot take the risk that data produced by EU research and industry will be processed elsewhere because of the lack of supercomputing capabilities. This would increase our dependency on facilities in third countries and would encourage innovation to leave Europe.

This is where the European Union's added value stands and why the European Commission and the member states came together on 23 March 2017 in Rome with the 'EuroHPC declaration'.

On that day, seven member states - France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain - signed a declaration in support of the next generation of computing and data infrastructure.

Since then, six more countries endorsed the declaration (Belgium, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Greece and Croatia).

Thanks to these 13 pioneers, we can now go a step further by pooling more investments to establish leading European supercomputers infrastructure.

As proposed by the European Commission, the new legal and funding structure – the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking – shall acquire, build and deploy across Europe world-class supercomputers.

At this stage, the EU's contribution will be around €486 million under the current EU multi-annual budget, matched by a similar amount from member states and associated countries.

Overall, around €1 billion of public funding would be invested by 2020, and private members of the initiative would also add in kind contributions.

Beyond the 13 countries, the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking can be joined by any other members states and associated countries at any moment provided their financial participation.

This new legal instrument aims to support the development of systems with exascale performance (a billion billion or 1018calculations per second), based on EU technology, by 2022-2023.

European supercomputing infrastructures represent a strategic resource for the future of EU industry, as it becomes more digital.

It is also a great potential source for new jobs. Many small and medium-sized companies need modelling and simulation for their business.

For many of them - if not all - the cost of owning and maintaining such technologies is prohibitively high.

This is the EU's role to support their creativity, innovation and competitiveness.

Mariya Gabriel is European commissioner for the digital economy and society

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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