France to Deploy AI-Focused Supercomputer: Jean Zay

By Tiffany Trader

January 22, 2019

HPE announced today that it won the contract to build a supercomputer that will drive France’s AI and HPC efforts. The computer will be part of GENCI, the French national infrastructure for HPC resources and facilities. The system, named Jean Zay after the French politician and cultural figure, came at the behest of an action issued by President of France Emmanuel Macron in support of the national strategy to make France the European leader in artificial intelligence research.

Financed by GENCI and based on the HPE SGI 8600 platform, Jean Zay is slated to deliver a peak performance of 14 petaflops. Under a unified Omni-Path Architecture network, the system encompasses 1,528 Intel next-generation Xeon nodes and 261 GPU nodes, each with four Nvidia Tesla V100 (32GB) GPUs, 1,044 in all.

DataDirect Networks is also a supporting partner in providing flash storage technology that will enable a read/write capacity of more than 300 GB per second. A direct liquid cooling solution will support faster rendering times for simulations while also reducing energy consumption.

HPE SGI 8600

The goal of the project, according to the partners, is to field a converged platform that advances scalable machine learning and AI applications, in addition to improving traditional HPC workloads like modeling and simulation. The French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Education notes that the new supercomputer will double the nation’s numerical simulation capabilities along with bolstering artificial intelligence research prowess. Target applications include several deemed “priority sectors,” notably healthcare, transportation, environmental science and national defense and security.

For the Top500 watchers, Jean Zay would likely slot in between France’s current number one and number two fastest systems (with the possibility of taking the lead pending Linpack efficiency). Respectively, those are Tera-1000-2, a Bull Sequana X1000 machine installed by Atos Group at the Commissariat a l’Energie Atomique (CEA) (benchmarked at 11.97 petaflops, 23.4 petaflops peak); and Pangea, the HPE oil and gas supercomputer installed at Total and touting 5.28 Linpack petaflops (6.7 petaflops peak). France currently claims 18 systems on the Top500 list, with Tera-1000-2 being the highest ranked at number 16.

Jean Zay will be installed at IDRIS, a computing center located 25 km southwest of Paris that is part of CNRS (The French National Center for Scientific Research). Installation is planned to begin in June 2019, with production status expected in October 2019. Currently, IDRIS houses Turing, a 1.07 petaflops (Linpack) BlueGene/Q system that came online in June 2012 and currently ranks 368. Ada, an IBM system with a peak output of 230 teraflops, is also located at IDRIS.

“Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly influencing the next wave of digital experiences, and in France, we see it as a major opportunity for scientific and economic growth,” commented Gilles Thiebaut, vice president and managing director, HPE France, writing in a company blog post. “By empowering the nation’s robust pool of talent with powerful compute technologies that target various, AI and analytics applications we see emerging, we believe France has the potential to be a driving force of AI efforts for the European market.”

French commitment to intensive computing infrastructure is within the context and scope of the greater European strategy. A statement from the Ministry of Research indicates that “France plans to be a candidate by 2022 to host one of the so-called exascale European computing machines (one billion billion operations per second) co-financed by the European Commission within the framework of the company common Euro-HPC […]. It will be an investment of more than 320 million euros, half of which will contribute to artificial intelligence.”

Jean Zay is the namesake of the French politician imprisoned by the Vichy government during World War II.  The supercomputer was named after Jean Zay because of his contributions to the scientific and arts fields as a Minister of National Education and Fine Arts. He established the institution that will host the supercomputer — CNRS — in 1939. CNRS will celebrate its 80th anniversary this year. Jean Zay also established the eminent Cannes festival.

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