A true jewel
Forschungszentrum Jülich has a new gem: the JUWELS supercomputer. Its name could be an indication of how the experts at the Jülich Supercomputer Centre (JSC) classify it: as a jewel among high-performance computers. In fact, the name stands for Jülich Wizard for European Leadership Science, i.e. a computing genius. What accounts for this genius?
THE COMPUTING POWER
One thing first: it is not the current performance that makes the new computer unique. It is impressive all the same: In June, in the first test runs for the TOP500 list of the fastest supercomputers in the world, JUWELS achieved a speed of 6.2 quadrillion floating point operations per second, petaflops in short. This corresponds to the computing power of more than 30,000 modern PCs: if, starting from the sun, the supercomputer were to advance one millimetre for each arithmetic operation, it would reach Pluto, the outermost post of the solar system, in less than one second. JUWELS was thus the fastest German supercomputer on the list. It ranked 23rd worldwide, despite the current expansion stage consisting of only one module, which is not primarily geared to maximum computing power, but to flexibility and versatility. Next year, another module will multiply performance.
JUWELS cluster module
Theoretical computing power:
c. 1,450 kilowatts
JUWELS is distinguished by its adaptable and modular design, which goes back to an idea of JSC Director Prof. Thomas Lippert: the cluster booster concept. Here, two computer modules are cleverly combined with each other in order to improve the energy efficiency and performance of the supercomputer in everyday scientific life. Complex parts of the simulations, which are difficult to calculate simultaneously on a large number of processors, are executed on the so-called cluster module. Simpler program parts, which can be processed in parallel with greater efficiency, are outsourced to the booster, which will be added to JUWELS next year. This second module uses a large number of relatively slow but at the same time energy-efficient cores. “The basic idea of this concept is similar to house building: instead of exclusively employing highly specialised skilled workers, only the complicated, critical work such as the electrical installation is handed over to the experts. Simpler operations are then carried out by less qualified workers,” explains Dr. Estela Suarez of the JSC.
Another technical peculiarity: a new type of hot water cooling allows the majority of the waste heat of the cluster module to be cooled directly with the outside air without an additional energy-consuming cooler. This saves energy.
“JUWELS is a milestone on the way to a new generation of highly flexible supercomputers that can handle an extended range of tasks,” says JSC staff member Dr. Dorian Krause. The high-performance computers are no longer only used for computationally intensive simulations in almost all scientific disciplines. To an increasing degree, they are also to analyse large amounts of data – keyword: big data – or serve as platforms for machine learning. Even before the system was launched, many European researchers were pushing for calculating on the new supercomputer. With a total of 87 projects, it is fully booked for the first half year. “Among other things, JUWELS will be used in the near future for simulations in quantum physics or neuroscience and material sciences. Environmental researchers are also using the new supercomputer to develop high-resolution climate models, for instance,” says Dorian Krause. He stresses that the selection of projects is based solely on scientific excellence. The allocation is organised by the Gauss Centre for Supercomputing, the association of the three German high-performance computing centres through which the Federal Government and the State of North Rhine-Westphalia also finance JUWELS and its operation.
“Modular supercomputing is the key to a promising, affordable and energy-efficient technology. With JUWELS, we and our European partners are pioneers in the development of this next generation of supercomputers.”
Prof. Thomas Lippert, DIRECTOR OF THE JÜLICH SUPERCOMPUTING CENTRE
The cluster booster concept was first implemented by scientists from twelve European countries during the EU-funded projects DEEP and DEEP-ER, which ran until April 2017. Coordinated by a JSC team led by Estela Suarez, they built two prototypes and, with them, tested the performance of the design. The Munich-based company ParTec was the development partner. Its ParaStation software also manages JUWELS. Meanwhile in the DEEP-EST project, Suarez and her cooperation partners are already developing the cluster booster concept further by adding other specialised modules, particularly for applications that handle large amounts of data. The partners will build the prototype of a modular supercomputer with three modules.
Image: MaLija/shutterstock.com, Video: Forschungszentrum Jülich