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ETH inagurates Europe’s most powerful supercomputer

Today, 21 March 2014, Fritz Schiesser, the president of the ETH Board, Ralph Eichler, the president of ETH Zurich, and guests from research, politics and industry are convening in Lugano to inaugurate “Piz Daint”. The new supercomputer at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS)  is currently the most powerful computer in Europe and the flagship of supercomputing in Switzerland.

“Piz Daint” is the culmination of the first phase of the national High-­Performance Computing and Networking Strategy (HPCN Strategy), which ran from 2009 to 2014 and was implemented successfully by the ETH Board on behalf of the Swiss government and CSCS. “Nowadays, research relies on tremendous computer capacity to make progress in an increasing number of fields”, says Fritz Schiesser, “«Piz Daint» is Switzerland’s response to this challenge.”

Although “Piz Daint” has already been at CSCS for around a year, it was only thanks to an upgrade from twelve computer cabinets to twenty-­eight and a hybrid expansion with graphics processors (GPU), which were available in the autumn, that “Piz Daint” finally broke the petaflop barrier targeted by the strategy in October. It even reaches a theoretical peak performance of 7.8 petaflops. With around 3.2 billion computer operations (3.2 gigaflops) per watt, the combination of GPUs and conventional processors (CPUs) also makes “Piz Daint” one of the world’s most energy-­efficient supercomputers in the petaflop performance class.

Software and hardware improvements

For Thomas Schulthess, the director of CSCS, it was clear that the growing demand for simulations in the natural sciences cannot solely be satisfied with more powerful supercomputers and that investments also need to be made in the improvement of computing algorithms and software. Consequently, the platform for High-­Performance and High-­Productivity Computing (HP2C) was launched within 2/3 the scope of the HPCN initiative. Under HP2C, developers of application software for scientific simulations in different disciplines have spent the last four years collaborating with applied mathematicians and computer scientists to create new, more efficient simulation systems with CSCS and computer manufacturers. “Piz Daint” is the result of this collaboration. “Thanks to projects like HP2C and PASC, Thomas Schulthess and his team have also managed to position Swiss researchers at the cutting edge of algorithm and software development worldwide”, says Ralph Eichler. PASC (the Platform for Advanced Scientific Computing) is the follow-­up project to HP2C.

The combination of new codes and hardware within the scope of HP2C yielded a sufficiently powerful and energy-­efficient system that enables researchers to pursue their scientific ambitions: producing a kind of tomographic model of Earth, calculating water bonds correctly in molecular dynamics or simulating a high-­resolution climate model of Europe. Earth scientists, chemists, physicists and climate scientists have done the initial groundwork for these projects and tested their newly developed codes on the brand new system – with more than satisfactory results.

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