Congratulations on being named a 2021 HPCwire Person to Watch! EuroHPC made the most of 2020, with a slew of major system announcements landing toward the end of the year. Could you talk about the trajectory for the Joint Undertaking as these pre-exascale machines start to become reality and the exascale era nears?
First of all, let me thank you for selecting me as an ‘HPCwire Person to Watch in 2021’, I am honoured!
Last year, two years after its establishment, the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking became independent from the Commission which helped to set it up. Since September 2020, we have signed procurement contracts for seven world-class supercomputers that will contribute to the EU Digital Decade agenda and strengthen Europe’s digital autonomy.
Vega, the petascale system that is built in Slovenia in collaboration with the Institute of Information Science in Maribor, was delivered on 10 March and will be operational early April. It will be the first EuroHPC-JU supercomputer to come online, less than half a year after contract signature and despite Covid-19 constraints.
The Vega system is the first of eight supercomputers to be installed in Europe funded under the current EuroHPC-JU Regulation. We also expect the supercomputers in Luxembourg, Czech Republic and Bulgaria to come online soon.
I took over the management of the EuroHPC JU in September 2020 and have also been busy getting to know the members of the Joint Undertaken which are the Participating States, the Private Members and the Commission. The Joint Undertaking will only function if all these stakeholders are in agreement. This is not always easy considering the different interests they all have, but is critical if EuroHPC-JU is to achieve its objectives.
Looking forward, the new Regulation that is currently being discussed at EU level, will further be a step up in our efforts for a world-class ecosystem in Europe. The proposal will allocate €8 billion of EU funding to continue building a world leading European HPC ecosystem.
With these funds, we will not only develop a world-class exascale and post-exascale HPC infrastructure, but also deploy a quantum computing and quantum simulation infrastructure, and make these resources accessible to public and private users across Europe. We will also support the development of technologies and applications to underpin the supercomputing ecosystem, and exploit the synergies of HPC with AI, big data, and cloud technologies. We will improve the awareness, knowledge, and training in HPC. All in all, we will ensure the development of top-of-the-range HPC infrastructures and technologies in Europe for the next decade, to maintain Europe’s position in the global race towards exascale, post-exascale and quantum computing capabilities.
The pandemic has presented both challenges and opportunities for the European HPC community. How did EuroHPC transform throughout the pandemic, and how, if at all, do you think COVID-19 has affected the future of the Joint Undertaking?
Generally, the pandemic has indeed been a challenge in the last year, affecting supply chains, projects, events and in general, the way we work.
As in many organizations, the pandemic most certainly accelerated the digital transformation of EuroHPC-JU. The JU became an autonomous institution in the midst the pandemic, and I have yet to physically meet many of my staff, and we have yet to all come to the EuroHPC-JU offices or meet in the same room. This means that all processes and procedures for the JU have been established within the constrains of the pandemic and using technology to the outmost possible extent. While I cannot wait for the pandemic to be over, and for us all to be able to meet physically, I am confident that we will retain many of the working practices we have built-up due to the pandemic, and that the EuroHPC-JU will be a stronger and more agile organization, because we were setup and started our operations during the pandemic.
It has also been impressive to see the how the HPC community has pulled together to undertake the great research to isolate the COVID-19 virus and identify drugs that can treat COVID symptoms. As none of the EuroHPC-JU machines were operational at the time, EuroHPC cannot claim any of the credit but was able to witness up close this work.
EuroHPC is aiming to build a homegrown hardware ecosystem for Europe while maintaining competitive, leadership standing. How is the JU balancing those dual priorities?
EuroHPC-JU will continue to foster research and development of European HPC technology that can compete on the global HPC market. The ambition is to lead in a number of technology areas where Europe feels it has fallen behind and to continue to strengthen its capacities further in areas where Europe is strong. By pooling European and national resources together, we are building a European HPC ecosystem which will be composed of a mix of European and non-European technologies to allow us to provide the best possible HPC ecosystem for our user communities. For example, Europe has a very strong ecosystem of HPC applications which ultimately deliver the value of HPC. By following a co-design approach there is great potential to develop competitive hard- and software that will align with the requirements of the European public and private sector.
Through the new MFF programmes for 2021-2027, with Horizon Europe, the Digital Europe Programme and the Connecting Europe Facility funds, EU Member States will reach together the next supercomputing frontier. It will allow the Union to equip itself with a world-class federated, secure and hyper-connected supercomputing and quantum computing service and data infrastructure, and to develop the necessary technologies, applications and skills for reaching exascale capabilities and a quantum computing innovation ecosystem.
In the next few years, Europe’s leading role in the data economy, its scientific excellence, and its industrial competitiveness will increasingly depend on its capability to develop key HPC technologies and its present excellence in HPC applications. To make this happen, a pan-European strategic approach and a coordination by EuroHPC-JU is essential.
Generally speaking, what trends and/or technologies in high-performance computing (and related fields, such as AI) do you see as particularly relevant for the next five years?
The trend to look at performance per watt is here to stay and will only become even more relevant as we move into exascale systems. I also believe that we will see more accelerators specific to particular applications or algorithms being deployed on HPC systems in the years to come. The challenge will be to cope with the further increase in the complexity of the programming model that such accelerators will introduce to a model that is already very complicated. My hope is that developments on the software side will start to address this complexity and make HPC more accessible to non-expert users.
The link between data and HPC will be also increasingly important in the future. Larger and larger amounts of data are constantly being generated, and as a result, the nature of computing is changing, with an increasing number of data-intensive critical applications. HPC will be key to processing and analysing this growing volume of data, and to making the most of it for the benefit of citizens, businesses, researchers and public administrations.
Outside the professional sphere, what activities, hobbies or travel destinations do you enjoy in your free time?
I very much relax by enjoying outdoor activities, mainly hiking with my family and friends, and when the opportunity presents itself, sailing. Luxembourg is a fantastic place to live when it come to hiking, unfortunately the same cannot be said for my passion for sailing.
Since joining EuroHPC-JU, there hasn’t been much free time, however when things calm down, I hope to get back to my two hobbies, electronics and model trains, which I have conveniently combined. I have equipped my trains with homegrown electronics using microcontrollers with WIFI and my own software to control the trains. My trains are unfortunately still in moving boxes, but when they will finally get unpacked, it will be high time for an upgrade, and I am really looking forward to restarting this work.