Europe’s fastest computer boots up

Europe's fastest supercomputer was set to be unveiled on Friday in Munich. Its three petaflops of processing power will be used to explore new worlds, from the wonders of the cosmos to mysteries of the earth's core.

Europe's fastest computer boots up
Photo: DPA

The phenomenal processing power is equivalent to three billion people each holding a pocket calculator, each completing one million calculations every second.

This is how IBM likes to represent the performance of their newest supercomputer, which at its three petaflop peak performance (FLOP – Floating Operations Per Second) is the fourth fastest in the world.

Physicists, geophysicists, astronomers, mathematicians, human biologists, engineers and climate researchers from 24 European countries – plus Israel and Turkey – have been promised access to the German supercomputer at Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian University.

It can be used to model processes as diverse as blood flow, movements in the earth’s core, or even the big bang itself.

SuperMUC, which weighs more than 100 tonnes and has the processing power of more than 110,000 PCs, is much in demand – so much so that an international board has been appointed to decide who can use it, wrote Die Welt newspaper on Thursday.

“Several times a year we give out calls for applications and with the number of applications we get it would be between three and seven times overbooked.” Arndt Bode, head of the Leibniz Rechenzentrum (LRZ) told the paper.

“Supercomputers are a key to finding the answers to the pressing questions of the 21st Century,” German Science and Development Minister Annette Schavan told the paper. She is expected to be at the official opening on Friday.

These questions include challenges Germany is taking very seriously, such as climate change, energy, nutrition, mobility, security and communication. The SuperMUC also has medical applications, such as modelling gene sequencing or highly complex protein structures scientists think may be key to fighting diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

The computer’s findings and models will be made visible in a new studio in the LBZ computer centre – so that it will be possible to walk through a 3D model of a human brain or a city of the future, wrote the paper.

Yet the supercomputer’s unique water cooling system – the first of its kind in the world – is possibly even more exciting for computer scientists, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper wrote on Wednesday.

It should reduce the total power consumption of the computer by 40 percent, by using water rather than air to remove the heat generated by the computer. The warmed-up water is then piped around the building’s heating system.

IBM also runs the world’s fastest computer, Sequoia, which is five times faster than the German SuperMUC. Housed in Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US Energy Ministry, the Sequoia is used for nuclear research and exploring new energy sources.

IBM is currently working on a new generation of quantum computers, which will take processing power to the next level.

The Local/jlb

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