Next generation supercomputers: the European project ExaNeSt has begun
Three years to develop a prototype supercomputer able to perform simulations of complex calculations including a simplified reproduction of the functioning of the human brain. This is the objective of the European project ExaNeSt, funded with 8.5 million euro by the European Commission under the Framework Programme Horizon 2020, in which Italy participates through the National Institute for Nuclear Physics and the National Institute for Astrophysics.
The future of computer science lies in the so-called “exascale computers”: machines that can perform billions of billions of calculations per second through the interconnection of millions of processors. The current challenge of research in this sector is to identify new solutions for the construction of extremely fast supercomputers that are, at the same time, low-cost and sustainable in terms of energy.
This is the objective of the three-year project ExaNeSt (European Exascale System Interconnect and Storage), recently begun, funded by the European Commission with 8.5 million euro in the context of Future and Emerging Technologies (FET): the funding scheme of the Framework Programme Horizon 2020 designed to support visionary, high-risk research ideas that can lead to the development of radically new technologies.
The aim of the project is to build a next generation supercomputer, composed of millions of processors interconnected in a very high speed network and of a new data storage system that will be able to improve from 10 to 100 times the performances of existing supercomputers. Italy’s participation in the project, coordinated by the Greek Foundation for Research and Technology (FORTH), is through the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN), the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) and the companies eXact LAB and ENGINSOFT.
“INAF will contribute to the construction of the functional prototype of a supercomputer whose components are designed and assembled entirely in Europe, a computing machine that is extremely powerful but also energy-efficient”, said Giuliano Taffoni, INAF coordinator for ExaNeSt and, at European level, of the segment of the scientific applications. “It will be the world’s first computer able to perform more than one billion billion operations per second: this is what exascale computing means”, concluded Taffoni.
“At the end of the three years – explained Piero Vicini, INFN coordinator for ExaNeSt – we will have a prototype to be used to test programmes for computational theoretical physics calculations or complex systems simulations including a reduced and simplified model of the functioning of the human brain”. INFN has a well-established tradition in these sectors, as demonstrated by the recent entry of the WAVESCALES consortium, coordinated by INFN, into the Human Brain Project (HBP), the great project of the European Commission aimed at “mapping” the human brain.
One of the objectives of ExaNeSt will be to ensure that the processors of supercomputers, between one hundred thousand and one million, are able to store data and perform calculations in the shortest possible time, “communicating” with each other efficiently and with a minimum energy expenditure. An ambitious challenge that will lay the foundation for the construction of the supercomputers of the future, with Italy at the forefront.