15 Feb 2012 Paris - The equivalent of reading two billion books in just one second: that's the level of performance which the CURIE supercomputer - designed by Bull for GENCI - the French National High-Performance Computing Organization - and now being made available for research purposes - is capable of. The Research Infrastructure PRACE - Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe - welcomes the full installation of the French supercomputer CURIE, the second Tier0 system for PRACE, which will be completely opened to scientists on March 1st, 2012.
Over the past two decades, supercomputers have become essential tools for researchers, helping them to model and simulate complex phenomena, in ever more detail, in a way that traditional experimentation could never achieve. The greater the performance and capacity of supercomputers, the more precise and realistic the computer models and simulations become.
CURIE - which is capable of up to two million billion operations a second (or 2 Petaflop/s) - consists of more than 92,000 processing cores, linked to a system that can store the equivalent of 7,600 years' worth of MP3 files (15 Petabytes) at a speed of 250Gbit/s, 100,000 times faster than an ultra-high-speed ADSL connection.
"With its balanced architecture - which is unique in Europe - combining high levels of processing power and the capacity to process huge amounts of data, CURIE will give French and European researchers the means to tackle the biggest scientific challenges in fields such as climatology, life sciences and astrophysics", stressed Catherine Rivière, CEO of GENCI, the public agency charged with co-ordinating France's policies in intensive computing.
"The design of CURIE reaffirms the excellence of Bull's engineers in their understanding of Extreme Computing technologies", added Philippe Vannier, CEO of Bull. "This is part of a virtuous circle where European experts from all different fields - from the engineers who design supercomputers to the researchers who use them - join forces to create the most advanced solutions in this area. What's at stake is European innovation and technological supremacy and competitiveness, which will be our very best assets when it comes to beating the global competition and encouraging the creation of high-level employment on our continent."
"The expertise of Bull's teams, combined with the essential support of the CEA - which is hosting and running CURIE at its TGCC data centre in Bruyères-le-Châtel - enabled us to bring the roadmap that we had created four years ago to a successful conclusion, within the allotted timescale", continued Catherine Rivière. GENCI's 100 million euro investment over five years has effectively enabled France to meet its commitments to contribute to Europe's research infrastructure, under the terms of PRACE (Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe) initiative of which it was a founder member. PRACE, which now covers 24 countries, is aimed at gradually implementing a distributed, pan-European infrastructure of four data centres, each equipped with supercomputers delivering at least 1 Petaflop/s of power, including CURIE at the TGCC.
"Thanks to CURIE, the European HPC capacity available through PRACE is now doubled. This capacity will help Europe lead the world in the quest for suitable solutions to societal challenges such as population ageing, climate change and energy efficiency", stated Nellie Kroes, Vice-president of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda.
The supercomputer - which was implemented in two stages between late 2010 and the end of 2011 - is now completely installed and its final configuration has been tested, before it is made fully available to scientific community from 1 March 2012. In this final testing phase, the supercomputer's effective operation has been verified by running a number of very large-scale simulations using virtually all of its components. This so-called 'Grand Challenges' phase is also enabling researchers to achieve major scientific advances more generally.
"It is crucial for PRACE to extend continuously its facilities and services in order to provide the best resources to those computing Grand Challenges that can help improve our society and our life in the blue planet. The CURIE Grand Opening will strengthen the PRACE infrastructure with a novel, unique and highly performing computing architecture", expressed Dr. Maria Ramalho, PRACE Managing Director.
For example, this was the case with the work carried out in December 2011 by the team led by Michel Caffarel from the quantum chemistry and physics laboratory at CNRS/Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse. In order to gain a better understanding of the chemical phenomena at work in the process of neuro-degeneration - particularly in Alzheimer's Disease, which currently affects over 20 million people worldwide - researchers were looking to model the behaviour of metallic ions that are particularly involved in these processes.
The simulations carried out using virtually all CURIE's processing cores with the QMC=Chem code proved to be highly more accurate that those obtained so far using classical methods.
Michel Caffarel welcomes this development: "Thanks to CURIE's processing power, the precision needed for explorations at the level of the fundamental chemical processes at work in the complex molecular systems of living organisms is now accessible. Exploring this aspect means we can understand the mechanisms involved in determining the important factors, and eventually suggest new options for treatment."
Other 'Grand Challenges' are being planned for CURIE. In astrophysics, for example, a team from the Paris Observatory is currently involved in a world first: understanding the evolution of the Universe from the Big Bang to the present day, under the influence of dark matter. This simulation will be ten times more realistic than those currently being carried out in the USA and South Korea.
Other research teams have high hopes of CURIE, including those from the CEA working on nuclear fusion, with the aim of scoping the future prototype of ITER - the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. Researchers at CORIA and CERFACS are planning to use the system to optimize the combustion processes in turbines and piston engines. And teams from the Pierre Simon Laplace Institute (IPSL) will be creating multi-level climate models, to study cyclones in the Indian Ocean.