Per Öster sees free cooling as asset in CSC's hosting entity bid preparing for pre-exascale

4 Feb 2019 Luxembourg - On 23 January 2019,Primeur Magazinewas in Luxembourg to meet with Per Öster from CSC, the Finnish IT Center for Science. Luxembourg is the seat of the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking which just had its first Call out for pre-exascale hosting entities.Primeur Magazinetalked with Per Öster about the consortium CSC is heading and the proposal it is preparing as candidate hosting entity for one of the pre-exascale machines that will be procured by EuroHPC. CSC has a long history in HPC, having gone through all the different European initiatives, from DEISA over PRACE to the current EuroHPC activities.

Primeur Magazine:What is your interest in EuroHPC?

Per Öster:CSC sees this as a great opportunity. CSC's interest is really to make as much as possible for Europe out of this because it is a huge common investment now from Europe. We think that CSC has a concept and the experience how to run very efficiently HPC centres, taking the benefits of having data centres in the Nordics where we have a lot of important conditions like the cold weather. We can get free cooling, we have low energy costs and we have the so-called old industry that has renewed itself. For example, we have now since a number of years put our data centre in an old pulp and paper plant where there used to be an industry that is very energy consuming. They have a capacity of hundreds of megawatt, consisting of locally produced and hydro-electric energy. Now, when they are moving this industry to other parts of the world, we can reuse the plants. There is a very flourishing activity of ICT companies in this area, together with CSC.

Primeur Magazine:When we look at Finland, it is a big country, so I guess, this is in the north?

Per Öster:It is in the north from a European perspective but actually, it is in the middle of Finland, to be honest. We don't need to go that far north to get the optimal conditions.

Primeur Magazine:You already have a data centre there?

Per Öster:Yes, it is more than five years now that we have been operating it. We have still our head offices in the Helsinki-Espoo area. This centre is more than 500, or close to 600 kilometers, north of CSC's head offices. We have a small staff, operating the centre for remote operations most of the time. This turns out to work very well and cost efficiently. Almost the whole CSC staff of 350 people are in the Helsinki area and we have around ten people in Kajaani, not even all working in the data centre but in the offices there.

Primeur Magazine:You have this centre in Kajaani and what is the link with EuroHPC?

Per Öster:We are already running our own supercomputer there and a platform. We are just now starting to install the renewal, a 35 million euro investment from the Finnish government for our own data facility. This is already under installation. When we entered the EuroHPC discussions, it also awakened the interest from our government again that it would be an excellent opportunity for Finland if we could form a consortium with more countries that we could interest to utilize the existing facilities that we have for hosting a computer of this size.

That work has started last year, bringing together first the Nordic countries and eventually Switzerland to discuss the plan. More countries have been joining, including Belgium and the Czech Republic for example. Everybody is putting money on the table to build a real consortium because the concept is very interesting, we discovered, for many countries. The European Commission is providing fifty percent of the funding; the Member States are providing the other fifty percent. Everybody gets a share of the machine that is corresponding to their budget. At the same time, they get the possibility to promote and perform large and excellent science. That seems to be very appealing for a lot of the ministries involved here.

Primeur Magazine:It is not like, what some people think, one centre that gets one big EuroHPC machine?

Per Öster:It will be one machine but owned by a consortium, that is the idea. We will host it in our data centre in Kajaani but it will be used by many centres, the consortium partners, and all of Europe of course.

Primeur Magazine:The idea for you would be that you get a machine which is twice as big as you could afford with the consortium.

Per Öster:Yes, of course. We also see the benefit here of stimulating the collaboration between the countries and giving research collaborations the opportunities. We also get the critical mass for the most advanced research in this sense.

Primeur Magazine:Do you have special applications in mind for your machine?

Per Öster:These machines are general purpose but we see that the topic of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics is a very hot topic for this type of facilities. From a national perspective, it is a prioritized area in many of the European countries and in the whole of Europe.

Primeur Magazine:At this point in time, there is no idea yet about the machine itself because the first thing that EuroHPC wants is identifying the consortia.

Per Öster:Exactly and then there will be a procurement to find the best machine.

Of course, we have done extrapolations on what would be possible and what is interesting within our concept is that we can push, so we get more investment and can afford to do more investment and less for the operational cost, thanks to the low energy costs and the fact that we can get free cooling, in comparison with others. We can get more 'bang for the buck' through European research. That is our whole idea. You have the total cost of ownership over five years and if we can use as much as possible for the investment and get as large a machine as possible, the better it is. The money is not to pay the energy companies; the money is for research.

Primeur Magazine:It is a pre-exascale system - let us talk as if it has already materialized - when will it get into operation?

Per Öster:The Call for the hosting sites is now out. Then the procurement will start and take almost a year. If we can decide about the hosting site around mid-year, and taking a year from that time, one could be ready for implementing the machine around 2021.

Primeur Magazine:Is there any competition or are you the only one?

Per Öster:I am aware of two other initiatives. I know that Spain has been raising interest for a Spanish-Portuguese consortium and there is of course interest from Italy. Traditionally, you have large centres there that have been involved for a long time in HPC. Therefore, it is interesting. We have a real competition. We will see what will come out of this. I think we have a lot of advantages with our consortium and our concept. I think it is good for Europe to have some competition in this. I think this whole project now with EuroHPC is positive, with first the pre-exascale machines and then stepping up to the exascale machines for which there are already plans for budget. We have yet to see what will happen there but of course, the largest economies are the ones that are the hottest candidates for this.

Primeur Magazine:You have to bring in much more money for the exascale. The total budget is something like 250 million euro of which 125 million euro has to be paid by the Member States.

Per Öster:This is possible to raise. With the countries that I mentioned which are also strong economies and working together, it seems that we are secured.

Primeur Magazine:I wish you good luck with the consortium and the proposal. Thank you for this interview.

More news on the Finnish pre-exascale hosting entity bid is available in thePrimeur Magazinearticle " A number of European countries joining forces to bid for hosting Europe's fastest supercomputer ".
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