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Munich to switch on Europe's fastest supercomputer

David Wroe · 20 Dec 2010, 18:13

Published: 20 Dec 2010 18:13 GMT+01:00

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The Leibniz Supercomputing Centre at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Munich has announced the order of the SuperMUC, a massive supercomputer that will run at 3 ''petaflops'' - at least twice as fast as the current European champion.

It will be among the fastest supercomputers in the world, Dr Ludger Palm, who is responsible for the centre’s public relations, told The Local on Monday.

The €83-million contraption, to build by IBM and turned on in 2012, will be about 50 times faster than the centre’s existing computer and two or three times faster than the current fastest in Europe, which is at the French Atomic Energy Commission.

“It is a remarkable increase,” Palm said. “Although it’s not important for us to say we’ve got the fastest computer. By nature if you spend this much money, it should be the fastest, otherwise it makes no sense to buy a very expensive thing like this.”

While scientists around Europe will be clamouring to use the new machine, Palm said the acquisition was less about prestige than about the hard science that could be done.

“What we are very proud of is the outcomes, the scientific results. With this computer, you’ll be able to do simulations that you couldn’t think of before.”

The SuperMUC will use more than 14,000 Intel Xeon processors and be able to achieve the work of more than 110,000 PCs.

This will give it the sheer brute strength to make up to three quadrillion calculations per second (that's a three followed by 15 zeroes.) Crunching huge amounts of data was especially useful for creating very complicated simulations, such as earthquake behaviour and models of viruses or even complete human cells, Palm said.

One example was building computer models the earth’s interior – a field in which the SuperMUC’s predecessor, the HLRB II, has already made a ground-breaking contribution.

It would be a long time before scientists can actually predict an earthquake’s occurrence, Palm said. But the new computer should help them predict the impact of an earthquake when it does happen.

“Using a computer like might save many, many lives,” he said. “You can … take a particular point on the globe and ask what happens if an earthquake of a certain strength happens at this point? You then simulate the propagation of the earthquake waves to get an impression of where the damage might be. For example, how high will the tsunami be? You can calculate which areas need to be evacuated.”

Scientists also hope to make breakthroughs in making computer simulations of viruses and cells. The existing HLRB II has been used, for instance, to simulate viruses to fight diseases by showing, for example, how effective a pharmaceutical compound might be.

“We try to understand how the proteins in the virus move.” Palm said. “If you apply force to a certain point on the virus surface, how will the surface behave? Will it crack or not? It gives you much more leverage to deal with diseases.”

Viruses, from a biologist’s perspective, are relatively simple things. The next step will be simulating entire cells.

Story continues below…

“They’ll definitely need a much larger computer than the computers of today to do it. You have so many data points and many systems – enzymes and proteins and things you have to simulate.”

The computer will also be useful for the massive quantities of data-crunching needed for high energy physics such as that being done in the famous Large Hadron Collider at CERN outside Geneva, to explore the essence of matter and the origins of the universe.

Although the SuperMUC is just another step forward in computing muscle and will probably soon be overtaken by others, it is revolutionary in that it will employ a new cooling system that – oddly enough – uses warm water.

The computer chips will be cooled not by air like most supercomputers, but directly by water pumped in at about 40 degrees Celsius. The water comes at out about 65 degrees and can then be used for other purposes such as building heating – making it also one of the world’s greenest supercomputers.

David Wroe (david.wroe@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

19:45 December 20, 2010 by catjones
Can it calculate the effort to remove 5 inches of snow from a runway?
19:47 December 20, 2010 by Kayak
This news(?) fits well with the lack of professional comprehension in Germany for computing. The €83-million idea?; "Big means better."

Wow, that's an original thought (Sarcasm).

Will they integrate it into German non-export industries? No. Does Science belong to anyone? No. I reckon that the Machine-makers can't wait to fill-out the paper forms to get access to this beauty.

The (peta)flop is here. "Sir, would you like that with an original idea or a coke?"

It's made by IBM. This place inherits the future!

- Prufrock, I need you!
20:15 December 20, 2010 by Fatz Lewinski
Jeez, you guys are tight! Well I just thought it a mildly interesting article - really didn't stir any emotions in me at all.
21:21 December 20, 2010 by Celeon
It should be mentioned that 3 petaflops is the theoretical maximum performance of this computer. But it will never run at that speed.

For comparison , the currently fastest computer in the world is the chinese Tianhe-1A which runs at 2,56 petaflops. SuperMUC will propably not even operate at 2 petaflops.

Tianhe-1A has a theoretical max speed is 4.6 petaflops hence its regarded the fastest.
21:25 December 20, 2010 by DonH
I'm with catjones. Can it help clear up the paltry amounts of snow from Europe's runways? We live in NY and we're scratching our heads over how such small amounts of snow can bring several countries to a standstill. Also, I'll bet you can play a hell of a game of solitaire on this computer...
23:06 December 20, 2010 by bill35
Come on guys,I admire what Germany are doing with their research centers,scientest and educations It's been protected and they are sepnding more for developments what is worrisome is what happened in UK .

08:50 December 21, 2010 by jamano
you guys don't know what you are talking about. And can't see further that your noses. And haven't heard about world community grid projects and how they benefit poor souls like yours. you make me lose faith in mankind.
09:19 December 21, 2010 by Kayak
I reckon that I can see around 16000 kilometres beyond my nose, thanks jamano.

Would you like to expand on your comment? Tell us what you're on about, please!

Computing is not an export industry here in Germany. IT's success undermines many of the technolgies that preceded it (construction, printing, book-binding, publishing,...)

I work in the building-construction business here in Germany. It so happens that the construction industry is strongly based on its traditions here and it's not by its nature an export industry.

I'm speaking from a position of 20 years experience. A time when computing technology has radically changed my work BUT only outside of Germany. Here it's like the 1980s all over again!
12:17 December 21, 2010 by auniquecorn
Thanks Catjones, I just spit my coffee all over my keyboard.
13:20 December 21, 2010 by jamano
Kayak, I see absolute no good point for your carcasm here.

The news is good and you shouldn't be so negative about everything.

You might be right about many of the things you write but as active Boinc contributor I admire MUC's desicion to invest in such super PC.
17:04 December 21, 2010 by Johnne
Munich is unique :--))
17:23 December 21, 2010 by Kayak
"car-casm" --- An interesting slip/typo given my comment the priority on export-industries in DE.

@jamano; Thanks for the directive but we're all adults here.

@Johnne; I agree.

As for me, the scientific uses of SuperMUC are not in dispute.

My sarcasm-free point still stands; Germany follows in the world of computing.

Would anyone like to dispute that?
17:05 December 23, 2010 by xx.weirich.xx
Sweet... when will they be releasing computers like this at a reasonable price to the general public? XD
13:48 December 24, 2010 by paulinajtking
I reckon the germans will get nowhere fast with this 'Artificially inseminated intelligence'. It all adds up. After all, a bad workman always blames his tools.
09:49 December 25, 2010 by Hughston
Some scientist always wants a faster computer, but maybe he should just think harder. This was probably a big waste of money.
19:16 December 30, 2010 by bailey550
Gotta love it--takes 2 months to get internet from Telekom in Berlin but Munich has a super computer!
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