EU unveils $1.6b supercomputing plan

The two fastest supercomputers (the Taihu Light, above) are in China, with the US and Japan dominating most of the rest of the top 10. The EU is concerned that renting supercomputers located elsewhere increases the chances that sensitive information
The two fastest supercomputers (the Taihu Light, above) are in China, with the US and Japan dominating most of the rest of the top 10. The EU is concerned that renting supercomputers located elsewhere increases the chances that sensitive information could be leaked.PHOTO: XINHUA

LONDON • The European Union will spend €1 billion(S$1.6 billion) to try to catch up to China, the US and Japan in supercomputing, the European Commission said yesterday.

But as the initiative launches, uncertainty over Brexit is creating anxiety among British computer scientists that Britain may miss out on opportunities from the plan.

The goal of the project is for Europe to acquire two "world-class" supercomputers, capable of at least a hundred million billion calculations per second, and at least two mid-range systems, capable of tens of millions of billions of calculations per second, by 2020.

The EuroHPC initiative was launched in March last year, with funding specifics unveiled yesterday.

These machines are stepping stones towards the ultimate goal of the effort, which is to create a next generation "exascale" system - capable of performing at least one billion billion mathematical calculations per second - "based on EU technology" by 2022.

The Commission called the initiative "crucial for the EU's competitiveness and independence in the data economy."

STAYING IN THE RACE

It is a tough race and today the EU is lagging behind. We want to give European researchers and companies world-leading supercomputer capacity by 2020.

MR ANDRUS ANSIP, the European Commission's vice-president for the digital single market.

The EU itself will provide €486 million for the project by 2020, with a similar amount coming from individual members states and "associated countries" that sign up for the project. The Commission said private entities, such as companies, could also join the effort and provide "in-kind contributions".

Since it was launched in March last year, 13 countries have formally signed up: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland.

The UK has not formally joined the project so far and some British computer scientists worry that Britain will miss out on the potential benefits of the project due to Brexit.

Currently, the top two fastest supercomputers are in China, with the US and Japan dominating most of the rest of the top 10.

European companies, from carmakers like Daimler to aerospace giants such as Airbus and pharmaceutical firms like GlaxoSmithKline, as well as government departments, particularly weather agencies, increasingly have to rent computing time on supercomputers located in the US or Japan.

The EU is concerned that doing so increases the chances that sensitive information - including commercial trade secrets and sensitive personal data - could be leaked.

What's more, in the event of a political crisis, Europe's access to these supercomputers might be cut off, experts warn.

They point to the situation in China, which was forced to develop its own high-performance computing processors after its access to ones from American companies was cut off by the US government.

"It is a tough race and today the EU is lagging behind," Mr Andrus Ansip, the European Commission's vice-president for the digital single market, said in a statement.

"We want to give European researchers and companies world-leading supercomputer capacity by 2020."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2018, with the headline 'EU unveils $1.6b supercomputing plan'. Print Edition | Subscribe