Commission to invest €1bn in supercomputers

Mariya Gabriel © Arno Mikkor (EU2017EE)
Mariya Gabriel © Arno Mikkor (EU2017EE)

The European Commission has proposed a new joint undertaking which would invest around €1bn in high performance computing (HPC) infrastructure.

The new legal and funding structure, dubbed the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking, will support a research and innovation programme to develop both hardware and software for supercomputers. The EU will contribute some €486m under the current multiannual financial framework. Thirteen member states and associated countries will contribute a similar amount, bringing the total to around €1bn by 2020.

The initiative will launch in 2019 and run until 2026. It is expected that by 2022, supercomputers will be capable of 1018 calculations per second – equivalent to one billion billion. This is referred to as ‘exascale’ performance, and the joint undertaking will support the development of technology to reach this threshold. Further, it will aim to develop the applications and skills needed to operate these machines in a way that responds to major scientific and societal challenges.

The initiative will also aim to acquire and operate two world-class pre-exascale supercomputers and at least two mid-range supercomputers, and provide access to public and private users beginning in 2020.

What are supercomputers used for?

Supercomputers are machines able to perform extremely complicated computational tasks, far beyond the ability of general purpose computers. High performance computing has applications in a wide variety of fields, from health care, to the environment, to defence and security.

For example supercomputers can:

  • accelerate the testing of new medicines;
  • forecast the paths taken by hurricanes;
  • optimise turbines for electricity production;
  • develop complex encryption technologies; and
  • manage agricultural resource for more sustainable food production

In the commission’s view, access to cutting edge supercomputing technology – particularly by SMEs, researchers and other innovators – will improve European competitiveness in any number of areas, and allow Europe to become a true world leader in many fields.

What did the commission say?

At a press conference yesterday, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip focused on the need to bring Europe up to speed with emerging technologies: “Supercomputers are the engine to power the digital economy. It is a tough race and today the EU is lagging behind: we do not have any supercomputers in the world’s top-ten.”

Because of this, many European HPC needs are being met outside the EU, which can create problems related to privacy and data protection. The new initiative is vital to addressing these concerns, he continued: “With the EuroHPC initiative we want to give European researchers and companies world-leading supercomputer capacity by 2020 – to develop technologies such as artificial intelligence and build the future’s everyday applications in areas like health, security or engineering.”

As well as long term technological innovation, there will also be more immediate benefits, as Commissioner for Digital Economy Mariya Gabriel highlighted: “A better European supercomputing infrastructure holds great potential for job creation and is a key factor for the digitisation of industry and increasing the competitiveness of the European economy”.

She added that supercomputers are already behind many of the most important advancements affecting the daily lives of European citizens in recent years. With this announcement, the EU seems poised to expand its own role in delivering these improvements.

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