Supercomputer in Lugano

The CSCS (Swiss National Supercomputing Centre) moved the biggest Swiss supercomputer to Lugano. The new building is right in front of the stadium.

Recently the center had an open day in which the general population could tour the new center and learn about the uses of supercomputers for research. The event has been very instructional, and attracted a large number of people.
Here’s how the supercomputer Monterosa looks like:

But, as the CSCS expert said, this is just the tip of the iceberg: below this level there are two floors wherer the resources (electricity and water for the cooling system) are stored and distributed. The floor dedicated to the distribution is usually around 60cm, but here in Lugano they like to do things well… their floor is 6 meters!

And here’s the picture of the backstage, the floor below the supercomputers, where the water for the cooling system is distributed from the ground floor  to the upper floor where the supercomputer is located:

And finally a view inside the supercomputer:

The supercomputer actually uses the same processors as in our normal computers, but it uses thousand of them in parallel. Indeed the difficult part is to coordiante them. Only in supercompuers you find that each board has an (expensive) part dedicated to the communication with the other processors.

At the center they had conferences and talks to explain the history and function of the supercomputers.
The following poster explains (visually) the evolution of Swiss supercomputers… impressive. The supercomputer of year 1991 had half the computational power of a normal laptor we use nowadays!

The biggest supercomputer they have in Switzerland, the Monterosa in the picture above, can calcualte in one day what your computer could calculate in 64 years!

And what do they do with all these computational resources? Supercomputers are used mainly by scientists for two tasks: simulation (astrophysics, analysis of structures, chemistry simulations, etc), and for the analysis of large quantities of data (i.e., for the recent CERN particle acceleration experiment or to analyze genetic data). The service is free for scientists, which have to submit a proposals for their project: an international panel fo experts evalates the projects and their scientific relevance, and eventually grant access to use the facilities of the center. Nothing is secret here, the scientists are expected to publish the results of their studies for which they used the suercomputer. The supercomputers are also available for commercial use, but not for free. For instance the center for Weather forecast is using one of the supercomputers to pridict the weather in Switzerland.

Apperently, a huge supercomputer will be created in Zurich in the near future for analyzing social data, for which the European Union has given a budget of 1 billion euros (yes, billion, not million). The project is called FUTURICT “an initiative backed by the European Commission’s Flagship Programme supporting extensive, visionary research initiatives to determine ICT’s role in society.”

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