Pan-European Cloud to Support Big Science

By Tiffany Trader

March 6, 2012

Three of Europe’s most prominent research centers, CERN, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) have teamed up to launch a massive cloud computing project. Helix Nebula – the Science Cloud, which takes its name from a large planetary nebula in the Aquarius constellation, will support the fast-growing IT requirements of European scientists. After an initial two-year pilot phase, the project will be expanded to include governmental organizations and industry.

The launch is part of the wider Digital Agenda for Europe. Europe’s cloud-first goals are outlined in the Strategic Plan for a Scientific Cloud Computing infrastructure for Europe, which includes this ambitious vision statement:

In 2020, all scientists of all disciplines will choose the European Cloud Computing Infrastructure as their first option to store and access data, for data processing and analysis. This infrastructure will be considered as a natural infrastructure for the global science community similar to the road or telecommunication infrastructure for the general public today.

This infrastructure will contain vast quantities of data, an unrivalled array of open source tools, and a literally infinite amount of computing power accessible and usable from any kind of computer, smart phone or tablet device. Science will make significant progresses by applying data sharing and interdisciplinary research using this infrastructure as the fundamental tool. Important articles for leading publications, such as Nature and Science, will be derived from this infrastructure and it will be the source of a drastic increase of patents in Europe.

This infrastructure will have such a reliability and worldwide recognition for its implemented security/privacy scheme that also commercial companies will be using this “high security area” to derive patents.

For now, at least, the Helix Nebula project is a Europe-only endeavor due to concern over US laws like the Patriot Act, which conflict with European data security and privacy mandates. Commercial partners include Atos, Capgemini, CloudSigma, Interoute, Logica, Orange Business Services, SAP, SixSq, Telefonica, Terradue, Thales, The Server Labs and T-Systems, as well as the Cloud Security Alliance, the OpenNebula Project and the European Grid Infrastructure (EGI.eu).

The participants are working on creating a common framework, documenting everything and getting real computing going, but as the project gains steam, other scientific organizations and service providers will be invited to join.

“Assuming this phase is successful, an expansion to include more applications, more research and public organizations and more cloud computing suppliers is foreseen. Of particular interest is to stimulate a market where SME can make use of the computing platform to provide new services,” notes Bob Jones, head of CERN openlab.

CloudSigma, an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, based in Zurich, Switzerland, is supplying the cloud infrastructure for the project. CEO Robert Jenkins explains that the research partners were frustrated by a lack of communication among cloud providers, and decided to use their collective buying power to commission a pan-European cloud for HPC and scientific computing. CloudSigma has been working with supply and demand side partners since June 2011, to assess the HPC requirements of the research institutions and from there design a cloud computing environment that meets these specific needs.

At this stage, they’ve completed a successful proof-of-concept pilot with CERN, which is using the additional computing power to process data from the Large Hadron Collider as part of the search for the theoretical Higgs boson. They’re currently working with EMBL to enable more accurate gene sequencing methodology and with ESA to process large amounts of earth science data to support natural disaster research. While Jenkins was reticent to comment on the individual compute requirements of the three partners, he estimates that the total combined computing power for the project will be in the neighborhood of 50,000 – 100,000 CPU cores.

The data requirements of these institutions are accelerating rapidly, a bit like a car accelerating out in front of them, as Jenkins puts it. At EMBL, the wet lab output and the data from extracting DNA is doubling every six months or so. This puts pressure on the later stages, in terms of assembly and sequencing, and so forth. The research sites must spend more and more time and effort chasing after the extra computing capacity, which increasingly distracts them from their primary mission, the science.

In a nutshell, there’s a shortfall in computing capacity. Not to mention some of these very important projects and problems that they are trying to solve are limited by the amount of actual computing power they can deploy because of coordination problems and practical issues. As just one example of the latter, CERN cannot do more science at the moment because Geneva cannot give them more electricity.

“It’s kind of crazy that these problems are holding back some of the most important scientific research areas for mankind,” remarks Jenkins, “The idea of Helix Nebula is that we can bring the collective computing power of these different providers and the cloud delivery mechanism, with the flexibility and transparency that it enables, to be able to allow these institutions to essentially burst into cloud and pull down those extra computing resources.”

A committee of supply side and demand side partners meets regularly to map out the cloud system architectures. They evaluate the information coming in from the different proof-of-concepts to determine how the various partners are getting their work done and the requirements that involves. Then they document the performance requirements in terms of networking, CPU, RAM, etc. – all these different aspects of computing are captured and fed back to the group.

Jenkins stresses the importance of coordination and the role of networking to support that. “One of things we’re working on at Helix Nebula is creating proper coordination between the cloud and the different providers so that we’re able to hand off data and transfer it to each other very efficiently and reliably,” he says. The participants all sit down to optimize their networking, to make it easier for data to get where it needs to go.

“There’s a big win to be had from cloud providers coordinating to make their clouds much more user-friendly when you’re actually using more than one cloud. That doesn’t generally happen,” notes Jenkins.

CERN’s Bob Jones shares a similar outlook: “The extreme scale of the computing needs of CERN, in terms of processing power, data transfer rates and data storage capacity, pushes what can be done with cloud computing beyond its current limits. Science relies on collaboration, so the cloud services being deployed need to able to allow groups of researchers around the world to share their data and results in a secure manner. The sharing of resources in a secure manner is challenging what can be done with cloud computing today.”

When it comes to cloud technology, one of the strengths of Helix Nebula is that it’s very open, Jenkins explains. It doesn’t have any specific cloud technology requirements, stipulating what software providers must run. It’s more about the use case, being able to process a given data type with a specified level of performance. The methodology is cross-technology, with some providers using VMware, others using KVM, OpenStack or OpenNebula, all coordinating together to create a common framework. In the future, Jenkins says they may choose a cross-cloud driver, but during this proof-of-concept phase, which is where they’re at now, they want to capture all the requirements first.

The initial work dovetails with the project’s strategic objective, which states: “The European Research Area shall drive the development and implementation of a secure and globally recognised European Cloud Computing Infrastructure, initially targeting science users. This infrastructure will become ‘the’ platform for Europe, under public governance, ensuring open standard and interoperability and adhering to European policies, norms and requirements.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Intel, Micro Debut Quad-Level Cell NAND Flash

May 22, 2018

Chipmakers continue to gear designs toward AI and other demanding cloud workloads that take advantage of datacenter flash storage capacity. To that end, memory specialist Micron Technology Inc. began shipping compact sol Read more…

By George Leopold

Japan Meteorological Agency Takes Delivery of Pair of Crays

May 21, 2018

Cray has supplied two identical Cray XC50 supercomputers to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) in northwestern Tokyo. Boasting more than 18 petaflops combined peak computing capacity, the new systems will extend the a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ASC18: Final Results Revealed & Wrapped Up

May 17, 2018

It was an exciting week at ASC18 in Nanyang, China. The student teams braved extreme heat, extremely difficult applications, and extreme competition in order to cross the cluster competition finish line. The gala awards ceremony took place on Wednesday. The auditorium was packed with student teams, various dignitaries, the media, and other interested parties. So what happened? Read more…

By Dan Olds

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPC and AI Convergence is Accelerating New Levels of Intelligence

Data analytics is the most valuable tool in the digital marketplace – so much so that organizations are employing high performance computing (HPC) capabilities to rapidly collect, share, and analyze endless streams of data. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Mastering the Big Data Challenge in Cognitive Healthcare

Patrick Chain, genomics researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, posed a question in a recent blog: What if a nurse could swipe a patient’s saliva and run a quick genetic test to determine if the patient’s sore throat was caused by a cold virus or a bacterial infection? Read more…

ASC18: Tough Applications & Tough Luck

May 17, 2018

The applications at the ASC18 Student Cluster Competition were tough. Tougher than the $3.99 steak special at your local greasy spoon restaurant. The apps are so tough that even Chuck Norris backs away from them slowly. Read more…

By Dan Olds

Japan Meteorological Agency Takes Delivery of Pair of Crays

May 21, 2018

Cray has supplied two identical Cray XC50 supercomputers to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) in northwestern Tokyo. Boasting more than 18 petaflops combine Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ASC18: Final Results Revealed & Wrapped Up

May 17, 2018

It was an exciting week at ASC18 in Nanyang, China. The student teams braved extreme heat, extremely difficult applications, and extreme competition in order to cross the cluster competition finish line. The gala awards ceremony took place on Wednesday. The auditorium was packed with student teams, various dignitaries, the media, and other interested parties. So what happened? Read more…

By Dan Olds

Spring Meetings Underscore Quantum Computing’s Rise

May 17, 2018

The month of April 2018 saw four very important and interesting meetings to discuss the state of quantum computing technologies, their potential impacts, and th Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Quantum Network Hub Opens in Japan

May 17, 2018

Following on the launch of its Q Commercial quantum network last December with 12 industrial and academic partners, the official Japanese hub at Keio University is now open to facilitate the exploration of quantum applications important to science and business. The news comes a week after IBM announced that North Carolina State University was the first U.S. university to join its Q Network. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Democratizing HPC: OSC Releases Version 1.3 of OnDemand

May 16, 2018

Making HPC resources readily available and easier to use for scientists who may have less HPC expertise is an ongoing challenge. Open OnDemand is a project by t Read more…

By John Russell

PRACE 2017 Annual Report: Exascale Aspirations; Industry Collaboration; HPC Training

May 15, 2018

The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) today released its annual report showcasing 2017 activities and providing a glimpse into thinking about Read more…

By John Russell

US Forms AI Brain Trust

May 11, 2018

Amid calls for a U.S. strategy for promoting AI development, the Trump administration is forming a senior-level panel to help coordinate government and industry research efforts. The Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence was announced Thursday (May 10) during a White House summit organized by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Read more…

By George Leopold

Emerging Advanced Scale Tech Trends Focus of Annual Tabor Conference

May 9, 2018

At Tabor Communications' annual Advanced Scale Forum (ASF) held this week in Austin, the focus was on enterprise adoption of HPC-class technologies and high performance data analytics (HPDA). It’s a confab that brings together end users (CIOs, IT planners, department heads) and vendors and encourages... Read more…

By the Editorial Team

MLPerf – Will New Machine Learning Benchmark Help Propel AI Forward?

May 2, 2018

Let the AI benchmarking wars begin. Today, a diverse group from academia and industry – Google, Baidu, Intel, AMD, Harvard, and Stanford among them – releas Read more…

By John Russell

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

HPC and AI – Two Communities Same Future

January 25, 2018

According to Al Gara (Intel Fellow, Data Center Group), high performance computing and artificial intelligence will increasingly intertwine as we transition to Read more…

By Rob Farber

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Wins $57 Million DoD Supercomputing Contract

February 20, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today revealed details of its massive $57 million HPC contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The deal calls for HP Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CFO Steps down in Executive Shuffle at Supermicro

January 31, 2018

Supermicro yesterday announced senior management shuffling including prominent departures, the completion of an audit linked to its delayed Nasdaq filings, and Read more…

By John Russell

Deep Learning Portends ‘Sea Change’ for Oil and Gas Sector

February 1, 2018

The billowing compute and data demands that spurred the oil and gas industry to be the largest commercial users of high-performance computing are now propelling Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Ups Hardware Game with 16-GPU DGX-2 Server and 18-Port NVSwitch

March 27, 2018

Nvidia unveiled a raft of new products from its annual technology conference in San Jose today, and despite not offering up a new chip architecture, there were still a few surprises in store for HPC hardware aficionados. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hennessy & Patterson: A New Golden Age for Computer Architecture

April 17, 2018

On Monday June 4, 2018, 2017 A.M. Turing Award Winners John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson will deliver the Turing Lecture at the 45th International Sympo Read more…

By Staff

Part One: Deep Dive into 2018 Trends in Life Sciences HPC

March 1, 2018

Life sciences is an interesting lens through which to see HPC. It is perhaps not an obvious choice, given life sciences’ relative newness as a heavy user of H Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This