Q&A: HLRS’s Bastian Koller Tackles HPC and Industry in Germany and Europe

By Steve Conway, Hyperion

July 6, 2020

Editor’s Note: With worldwide travel curbed by the pandemic, it can be difficult to stay current with activities throughout the global HPC community. Digital conferences, such as the just completed ISC20, help but the gold standard of face-to-face meetings is much missed. In this exclusive interview for HPCwire – sadly not face to face – Steve Conway, senior advisor for Hyperion Research, talks with Dr.-Ing Bastian Koller about the state of HPC and its collaboration with Industry in Europe. Koller is a familiar figure in HPC. He is the managing director at High Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS) and also serves as coordinator of the EU-supported EXCELLERAT Center of Excellence on HPC engineering applications. He will lead HLRS’ efforts to manage the EuroHPC projects on the National Competence Centers (EuroCC and CASTIEL), scheduled to start September 1, 2020, and the EuroHPC SME Initiative (FF4EuroHPC).

HPCwire: Let’s start with HLRS and work our way up to the European scale. HLRS has stood out in the HPC world for its support of both scientific and industrial research. Can you discuss key developments in recent years?

Koller: The key developments at HLRS were mainly to extend our ecosystem to better address the needs of different communities and at the same time to continuously evolve our operating model. The latter is, among other things, necessary to take into account the special requirements of industrial users, for example in terms of security. The ecosystem was improved by the installation of solution centers.  Currently, we have an Automotive Solution Center for Simulations (ASCS), an Energy Solution Center (EnSOC) and a Media Solution Center (MSC), all covering different domains. They are set up as spinoffs, are implemented as associations, and are made up of players from the domains, including technology experts but also end users.

Another activity, which helps us to address our users’ needs, is that we integrate our users in tests of new technologies; with permission we use their applications to benchmark and elaborate on test systems and thus are [better able] to procure new systems which will support them well. One KPI (key performance indicator) for that is our average utilization of the systems, which is extremely high and shows us that these systems fit the needs of the scientific and industrial researchers.

HPCwire: The EU Fortissimo program for SMEs became successful at EPCC in Edinburgh and is now based at HLRS. What is the status of the program and what are the goals for the next few years?

Bastian Koller, HLRS

Koller: The Fortissimo program, which created more than 90 SME success stories, will be continued from September 2020 on within the FF4EuroHPC project. Due to the impact of Brexit, the project coordination was handed over to HLRS, but we will follow the same path EPCC followed, which is to perform open calls for experiments and create success stories with the selected experiments. Compared to the original Fortissimo projects, the focus is no longer only on HPC in manufacturing. FF4EuroHPC will address a wider span of topics.

HPCwire: HLRS has a strong history of helping SMEs (small and mid-size enterprises) to take advantage of HPC.  How do they come to HLRS, and how do you help them?

Koller: There are several ways SMEs come to HLRS, either through personal contacts with HLRS staff, or through experiences and collaborations, for example in research projects, or through activities like Fortissimo or through the SICOS GmbH, our spin off together with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, which is supported by our state government of Baden-Württemberg. We have a mechanism where meetings are organized to target SMEs, to create awareness of the potential of HPC and associated technologies such as HPDA and AI. In the first phase, the SICOS staff discusses the aims and requirements with the SMEs, and then HLRS takes over once it is clearer what the interaction might look like.

In terms of help and support, we provide the SMEs with consultancy services to enhance their products or services with the use of HPC and associated technologies. We do prototyping tests and provide them with human support to ensure they get what they need. When they move to production by embedding HPC, HPDA and AI into their normal work, they pay market-aligned prices for our HPC resources. Currently more than 40 SMEs are using our systems, and with the new HAWK supercomputer we expect this number to increase.

HPCwire: HAWK is your new HPE Apollo supercomputer. What are the plans for this system?

Koller: The plans are manifold. On one hand, HLRS wants to strengthen its capabilities and impact in the engineering domain and in the upcoming field of global challenges and global systems science. HAWK will also be the means to support all our users from other domains, such as mobility, biomedicine, climate and energy. The capabilities of HAWK will strengthen our reputation for hosting a highly-ranked supercomputer which is utilized by industry as well as for science.

The Hawk supercomputer.

Along with the setup and operation of HAWK, HLRS also established a collaboration with HPE and AMD, together with our users, that will help advance our business and capabilities. This initiative will look at how our users can make the best use of the technology in the system, how they can embed associated technologies such as HPDA and AI into their workflows, and in general how all of us can best exploit this powerful resource.

HPCwire: HLRS and the other two German national supercomputer centers formed the Gauss Center for Supercomputing a few years ago and it seems to be operating well. How does GCS work with German governments and the European Commission to fund supercomputing in Germany? 

Koller: Within GCS, we and the other two national computer centers work together to strengthen Germany’s leadership in the scientific and industrial use of supercomputing. The German government is one member of the EuroHPC governing board, and GCS representatives contribute to the EuroHPC advisory groups, such as the Research and Innovation Advisory Group and the Infrastructure Advisory Group. GCS with the three centers therefore provides strategic ideas which can be taken up in these diverse groups.

HPCwire: Your German state, Baden-Württemberg, has been very supportive of HLRS. How do you maintain that relationship?

Koller: In Baden-Württemberg, the representatives of the state have always been aware of the potential of HPC for going beyond its use in science. At HLRS we support Baden-Württemberg by showcasing that the trust and the money they give us is spent in a way that science, industry and society benefit from. Success stories are a key element for that.

HPCwire: Since the European Commission announced the first Europe-wide HPC strategy in 2012, Europe seems to have made important progress, including funding rules that make exascale systems financially practical, the EuroHPC joint undertaking, collaborating with PRACE, the European Processor Initiative and other activities. How do you see Europe’s HPC progress and what still needs to be done?

Koller: Europe has taken a big step forward with the implementation of the EuroHPC JU and by combining the HPC activities into a common strategy. So we see this as a good starting point, and we appreciate that it is not only about the technology and hardware systems themselves, but that the very important associated competences and excellence in applications are also being addressed. So what needs to be done is to continuously ensure that this path is followed and that Europe’s existing strengths in applications and overall excellence in HPC continue to be fostered, while competencies and capabilities around the technology are continually improved. With regard to competencies, the implementation and operation of the National Competence Center, as planned in the EuroCC and CASTIEL initiatives, will be of utmost importance.

HPCwire: Can you describe the specific goals of the EuroCC and CASTIEL initiatives and the part HLRS will play in those EU-supported initiatives?

Koller: The EuroCC initiative will coordinate the establishment of 33 National Competence Centers across Europe. It will run in a first phase for 24 months and work out the framework for the setup of a Competence Center in each nation, including which services and capabilities the center offers and how it can support users on behalf of public administration, science, industry and society at large. CASTIEL is a coordination and support action which will complement EuroCC by addressing collaboration, synergy detection and exchange on a European Level. It will involve the NCCs, but also existing activities such as the European Centers of Excellence on HPC applications and PRACE will be linked with the National Competence Centers.

CASTIEL will create working groups on the topics of training, digital twinning, mentoring, business development and industrial use of HPC and associated technologies, as well as on awareness creation, success stories, and so on. Both projects will start on the first of September and align with each other. HLRS, together with GCS, will coordinate both projects and also contribute strongly to the German National Competence Center that will be led by GCS. CASTIEL will also have a strong link to FF4EuroHPC, to support the NCCs in creating bids for the open calls for experiments.

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