One year after taking the post as executive director of the EuroHPC JU, Anders Dam Jensen reviews the project’s accomplishments since its launch in 2018 and details what’s ahead as EuroHPC’s operating period has been formally extended out to the year 2027.
HPCwire: Congratulations on the Council’s extension of the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU) from its initial 2018-2020 operating period out to the year 2027. What process was involved in this decision? Was there a formal review?
Anders Dam Jensen: Thank you! I am delighted that the Council Regulation is adopted and is now European law. We can now start to work on the new tasks given to the JU by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, including procuring exascale HPC machines for Europe, procuring quantum supercomputers, and building more capacity in HPC skills.
HPCwire: To what extent do the Member States and European Parliament recognize HPC’s ability to advance economic competitiveness as well as science and engineering? Did this play a role in the discussions about extending the JU?
Jensen: It is clearly stated in the new Council regulation that “Europe’s leading role in the data economy, its scientific excellence, and its industrial strength increasingly depend on its ability to develop key High Performance Computing technologies, to provide access to world-class supercomputing and data infrastructures, and to maintain its present leadership in High Performance Computing applications.”
HPCwire: What have the JU’s main accomplishments been?
Jensen: The speed at which this project has taken off is truly remarkable. The JU has already procured seven supercomputers. To date, two systems are fully operational. We have launched a number of projects worth EUR 272 million [$318 million], investing in exascale research and innovation, low-energy processors, greener computing, COVID-related HPC R&I, computer-aided drug design, HPC simulation techniques for product design, and for a better understanding of heart disease. But speed is not the only achievement: bringing together many different member states, convincing them to pool resources and achieve the common goal of building supercomputers to advance the scientific landscape of Europe is an incredible accomplishment in itself. The first steps to building a European HPC ecosystem is now underway and I am looking forward to the next few years.
HPCwire: How have European Member States and Europe’s HPC community responded to the JU?
Jensen: The response has been phenomenal. There is a huge drive and desire to work together to further European capabilities and ensure that Europe remains at the cutting edge of HPC and quantum technologies.
HPCwire: Is there anything you hoped to do by now that had to wait?
Jensen: Of course, the COVID-19 situation has been challenging. While we work on state-of-the-art innovation and computing, it is the human aspect that has taken its toll. We would have wanted all our partners to meet face-to-face in order to share learnings, best practices, and exchange knowledge to create a truly integrated network of supercomputers. As everyone else, we have adapted and conduct our business on video calls but there is no substitute for the real thing. This is also true for our staff, who have not yet been able to work collaboratively in the office. However, we have a great team spirit and have got to know each other over the last few months remotely, as well as during some well-deserved social occasions when restrictions allowed.
HPCwire: What are the main goals for the period through 2027?
Jensen: The newly adopted European Council regulation for the EuroHPC JU has set out ambitious goals through to 2027. The €7 billion [$8.2 billion] investment will see Europe reaching the next frontier of high-performance computing: the acquisition of exascale supercomputers. The European Commission also expects to develop the first computers that use the properties that underlie quantum mechanics. As part of the EU’s aim to have secure and sustainable digital infrastructures, we plan to build state-of-the-art pilot quantum computers by 2025.
The EuroHPC JU will also focus on energy-efficient HPC technologies that will cover both the HPC sector and broader technology sectors and markets, such as autonomous vehicles, extreme-scale, big data, and applications based on edge computing. We are well on track: within merely months of coming online, MeluXina is already ranked the greenest supercomputer in the EU according to the Green500 list published in June 2021. Further down the line, Europe will be able to produce competitive technology that can be integrated in supercomputers that will be in the global market. This is also a major goal for Europe’s digital autonomy and reducing its dependency on foreign technology computing.
The Regulation will also see increased investment in skills, education, and training in the use of high-performance computing to see further advantage being taken of the opportunities that supercomputing can offer European stakeholders. In particular we aim to train a large number of SMEs and public users to make use and benefit from our supercomputing investments.
HPCwire: The targeted combined funding from the Commission and participating nations is said to be €7 billion, or more than $8 billion. Is that adequate for the JU’s ambitious agenda for this period, and is the JU permitted to seek additional funding from other sources?
Jensen: This budget is substantially larger than the previous one, in a context of budgetary restrictions. Most of this funding comes from the current EU long-term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF 2021-2027) with a contribution of EUR 3 billion [$3.5 billion]. With such an ambitious budget, we plan to expand our infrastructure and computing capabilities with the acquisition of several exascale supercomputers, a number of additional mid-range supercomputers but also quantum computers and quantum accelerators. We will also strengthen our network of Competence Centres and boost the entire European HPC ecosystem.
HPCwire: What is the status of the second round of funding for the European Processor Initiative (EPI)? Is that funding part of the EuroHPC JU?
Indeed, the second round for EPI will be funded by the EuroHPC JU and member states. The call for the second phase has been launched and we are now preparing the grant agreement. We are glad to see that good progress has been made as the first tests of the RISC-V-based European Processor Accelerator (EPAC) were successful. Developing a homegrown microprocessor is key for sovereignty over HPC technology in Europe.
HPCwire: Expanding access to HPC seems to be a major goal. Through the JU and PRACE, European researchers have access to Europe’s leading supercomputers. The competency centers initiative aims to ensure that HPC resources exist in every European nation participating in this initiative, with local language and staff. How will cloud computing enhance all this access?
Jensen: The pan-European network of Competence Centres for High-Performance Computing addresses primarily the adoption of HPC within their constituencies and the development of skills. HPC resources are, for example, provided by the EuroHPC Hosting Entities through open and competitive calls. The Competence Centres support local communities to identify their HPC requirements and provide additional information on the availability of HPC resources and application procedures. This may include cloud computing activities as required, although no designated cloud computing resources are available through the EuroHPC infrastructure.
HPCwire: The JU also seems to be expanding its focus on supporting European industry. Your news release says the JU will “co-invest with industry in dedicated systems.” What does that mean?
Jensen: The newly adopted European Council regulation that expands the remit of the EuroHPC JU will allow us to invest further in industry and small businesses. For example, the new regulation foresees the collaboration between EuroHPC and private industrial partners for the procurement of so-called industrial-grade supercomputers. These systems will be co-designed and co-funded with the private partners taking into consideration the specific needs of industrial applications regarding, for example, protection of data, secure access, usability, trust and protection of industrial innovation.
HPCwire: Is there a focus on specific industries that are important for Europe’s economy, such as pharmaceutical or automotive companies?
Jensen: A key aspect of the EuroHPC JU’s mission is the digital transition and working towards the EU’s goals of carbon neutrality. We are very much part of the European Green Deal and wish to support industries that are committed to better environmental practices. This means working with key economic players, such as pharmaceutical and automotive companies, to enable them to find greener solutions while continuing to deliver essential services.
The first industrial project to run on a EuroHPC supercomputer is working to solve one of the most urgent issues we are currently facing: to reduce CO2 emissions in the transport sector. NorthVolt, a Swedish battery company, is currently running its programme on the Vega supercomputer in Slovenia. It is investigating the use of classical and reactive molecular dynamics and quantum chemical simulations to devise bottom-up design strategies for improved batteries. If successful, this project will have significant societal impact: it will improve electric mobility which has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions in the road transportation sector. We wish to support projects that have a positive effect on both the environment and the economy.
The focus will also be on large-scale and emerging application fields such as personalized medicine, climate change, connected and automated driving or other lead markets that are underpinned by artificial intelligence, blockchain technologies, edge computing and that are supporting the digitalization of the European industry.
As suggested in the European Parliament legislative resolution of 24 June 2021 on the EuroHPC JU’s Council regulation and by our very own INFRAG advisory committee, the set-up of a user forum could be of great relevance to assist the JU in the identification of HPC needs of specific new HPC users.
HPCwire: In Europe or anywhere else, there are thousands of SMBs that might benefit from HPC. How will you reach out to them, and how will you measure success?
Jensen: The EuroHPC JU has launched several initiatives to support the adoption of HPC by SMEs. For example, the FF4EuroHPC initiative offers knowledge, financial, and technical support to SMEs. The JU has also established a pan-European network of Competence Centres for HPC which will provide dedicated support to local communities and coordinates their activities, in particular for SMEs, but also addressing requirements of other entities from the private and public sector such as academic institutions.
HPCwire: Does the JU have any specific use cases in mind for quantum acceleration of HPC workloads?
Jensen: The JU is currently developing its quantum computing strategy. This includes the identification of pilot applications where a quantum/HPC workload may be most effective. Since scientific application, for example in physics and chemistry, show great potential to benefit from quantum computers we expect some use cases in these domains.
HPCwire: The initial MareNostrum5 procurement for Barcelona was canceled, with Atos protesting that the IBM-Lenovo team offered less European technology content. How will the JU balance the inevitable tension between the interests of researchers, who want access to the best supercomputers no matter where in the world they come from, and the goal of building a stronger European HPC supply chain?
Jensen: The JU will continue acquiring supercomputers through public procurement tenders, in full compliance with EU procurement rules and the objectives set up in the EuroHPC Regulation. These rules will guide us in striking the balance between the full set of requirements, including how European technologies might fit into the bids.
HPCwire: Can you summarize the JU’s vision for HPC in Europe?
Jensen: By making Europe a world leader in high performance computing, the EuroHPC JU seeks to provide computing solutions, improve cooperation in advanced scientific research, boost industrial competitiveness, and ensure European technological and digital autonomy.