European Commission Declares €8 Billion Investment in Supercomputing

By Oliver Peckham

September 18, 2020

Just under two years ago, the European Commission formalized the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU): a concerted HPC effort (comprising 32 participating states at current count) across the European Union and supplanting HPC calls made under the Horizon 2020 funding program. Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission is redoubling its commitment to supercomputing with a planned €8 billion investment in the development of European supercomputing leadership and “digital sovereignty.”

The €8 billion investment was proposed in the form of a new regulation, which has yet to be formally adopted by the Council of the European Union. The announcement came during a State of the Union speech by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.

“I am pleased to announce an investment of 8 billion euros in the next generation of supercomputers – cutting-edge technology made in Europe,” van der Leyen said. “And we want the European industry to develop our own next-generation microprocessor that will allow us to use the increasing data volumes energy-efficient and securely. This is what Europe’s digital decade is all about!”

A rendering of the Rhea processor.

The processor in question will be the fruit of the labors of the European Processor Initiative (EPI), for which SiPearl is designing a high-performance, low-power microprocessor codenamed “Rhea,” based on Arm’s planned “Zeus” architecture. Rhea, which was accidentally leaked via photos posted on Twitter just last week, is slated for release in 2021 and for use in the forthcoming European exascale supercomputer in 2022. Rhea is just the first of several planned generations through the EPI and will be succeeded by the (also mythologically named) Titan and Chronos generations.

The new regulation also stresses the role of quantum computing leadership, including both quantum computers and hybrid computers that combine elements of quantum and classical computing.

“Together with data and connectivity, supercomputing is at the forefront of our digital sovereignty, encompassing industrial, technological and scientific challenges,” said Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for Internal Market. “Keeping up in the international technological race is a priority, and Europe has both the know-how and the political will to play a leading role. Our objective is to rapidly reach the next standard of computing with exascale computers – but also and foremost to already integrate quantum accelerators to develop hybrid machines and position Europe very early on this disruptive technology.”

€8 billion is a big number – nearly $9.5 billion USD. As a point of comparison, the estimated cost of the forthcoming Aurora exascale system (slated to be the first in the U.S.) comes in at around $500 million. But the European Commission won’t be spending it all at once: the funding will be spread over 13 years (2021-2033). Furthermore, “only” €3.5 billion of the funding will be coming from the Commission itself, with the rest contributed by the constituent states and other sources. Many of these constituent nations are themselves playing host to national competence centers through EuroHPC, enabling easier access to supercomputing resources for local researchers and organizations.

“High-performance computing is an essential digital capacity for Europe,” said Margrethe Vestager, executive vice president for the European Commission’s “A Europe Fit for the Digital Age” initiative. “As we have seen in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, supercomputers are already assisting in the search of therapies, recognising and forecasting the infection spread, or supporting decision-making on containment measures. Data, in combination with artificial intelligence and supercomputers, are also a major asset in detecting patterns of ecosystems, helping us to mitigate changes in climate, and to work on solutions to avoid disasters and fight climate change. Our proposal today will foster increased investment in supercomputing infrastructure, in view of its enormous potential to improve quality of life, boost industrial competitiveness, and advance science.”

Additional details at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_1592

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