What is the problem?
Citizens expect sustained improvements in their everyday life while at the same time society is confronted with an increasing number of complex challenges – at the local urban and rural level as well as at the planetary scale. Responding to these challenges will create innovation and therefore the growth and jobs that the EU economy desperately needs. Transforming these challenges to innovation and creation of business opportunity is increasingly predicated on our ability to process large amounts of data and carry out complex computations. High Performance Computing (HPC) allows researchers to study and understand complex phenomena, allows policy makers to make better decisions and enables industry to innovate in products and services. Societal, scientific and economic needs are thus the drivers for the next generation of HPC - computing with exascale performance (computers capable of performing 10 to the power of 18 floating point operations per second).
The Communication "High Performance Computing: Europe's place in a Global Race" highlights the strategic nature of HPC as a crucial asset for the EU's innovation capacity and outlines a strategy to ensure European leadership in the supply and use of HPC systems and services by 2020. This Communication builds on the previous Communication on ICT Infrastructures for e-Science and the Council conclusions asking for a "pooling of national investments in HPC in order to strengthen the position of European industry and academia in the use, development and manufacturing of advanced computing products, services and technologies".
The recent Competitiveness Council on 29/30 May 2013 adopted conclusions on this HPC Communication, highlighting the role of HPC in the EU's innovation capacity and stressing its strategic importance to the EU's industrial and scientific capabilities, and to its citizens."
Europe has played an important role since HPC's beginnings and possesses a wealth of HPC-related experience and talent. In recent years however, Europe has been falling behind other regions of the world because it has under-invested in establishing a complete HPC ecosystem: to acquire leadership-class computers, secure its own independent HPC supply, and deploy HPC services to industry and SMEs for simulation, visualisation and prototyping.
This has a double negative effect in that there is not enough HPC capacity to cater for the demand of the science, innovation and industrial communities, and there is also not enough European supply industry designing and building HPC systems. There is only a small workforce available that has the adequate educational background and is well trained in HPC especially in parallel programming. In addition, scientists that look after the computational tools and application codes often do not have an attractive career path. This hinders the exploitation of HPC in research and industry. Overall, the European HPC eco-system (including a Europe-based supply of HPC technologies and systems) is underdeveloped; as a consequence, research may need to relocate outside Europe, access to advanced systems is insufficient, and software and tools development, especially those linked to hardware, is disadvantaged. Europe continues to be an appealing sales market for HPC system vendors from 3rd countries. European HPC software and services are adapted and tuned to these HPC systems and in turn benefit their (non-EU) vendors.
On the positive side Europe has the technical and human-skills world-leading capabilities in critical technologies for the next generation of exascale computing such as power-efficient microelectronics, interconnects and processor designs, as well as unique software tools and applications. Europe is already strong in important areas of parallel software development, and a global leader in this area; some of Europe's best firms are ahead of their international competitors in exploiting HPC for innovation. These strengths can and must be exploited in order to get European industry back in the computing scene as technology leading-edge supplier.
The significant and radical technological advances required to reach exascale performance give Europe an opportunity to change the balance of trade in HPC technologies. Thus Europe is also in an excellent position to embrace this challenge as an opportunity to seize global leadership. European HPC stakeholders and their counterparts in the U.S. and Japan believe that with a differentiated strategy, and sufficient investment and collective political will, Europe can be a global player in HPC.
Why is EU action required?
Establishing a PPP in HPC under Horizon 2020 will help ensure European leadership in the supply and use of HPC systems and services by 2020 by implementing an Europe-wide strategy with a long-term investment commitment by both industry and the European Commission. Implementation needs to combine all three pillars of the strategy: (a) developing the next generation of HPC technologies, applications and systems towards exascale; (b) providing access to the best supercomputing facilities and services for both industry including SMEs and academia; and (c) achieving excellence in HPC application delivery and use; these pillars should be complemented with awareness raising, training, education and skills development in HPC.
The development of HPC has long been a national affair for the large Member States, often driven by military and nuclear energy applications. In recent years, however, the increasing importance of HPC for researchers and industry, as well as the exponential rise in the investments required to stay competitive at world level, have led to a common understanding that "Europeanisation" of this policy domain would benefit everyone (both small and large Member States).
Technologies are also rapidly evolving and there exists various types of supercomputer architectures - one specific HPC system does not fit all the needs of the users. Consequently, a complete HPC eco-system has to be put in place that also includes software and services to really support the user community. The costs of procurement and operation of a single leadership-class HPC system are increasing. For any single country to maintain a complete public HPC ecosystem an annual budget of at least € 100 million is necessary. This magnitude of investment is beyond the reach of most EU countries, even some of the bigger ones.
Furthermore, no single European country has all the technological know-how and suppliers that are needed to produce a complete state of the art HPC system (hardware and software). Cooperation is a necessity; in particular for medium and small Member States, which find difficulties in creating self-sufficient national HPC infrastructures, but can valuably contribute to and benefit from an EU-level HPC eco-system.
What has the Commission done so far?
The e-infrastructure Unit of DG Connect is now preparing a PPP in cooperation with the HPC stakeholders grouped currently in the ETP4HPC European Technology Platform– and PRACE (Partnership for Advanced Research in Europe). The preparations focus on the development of the strategic roadmap of the PPP describing its vision, the research and innovation content, the expected impact, the nature and extent of the industry's commitments and the leverage effect of the PPP on future initiatives, and key performance indicators for monitoring the progress in the PPP's objectives.
What will the Commission do?
In June 2013, the Commission will publish a new communication indicating how the engagement of industry in Horizon 2020 can be strengthened, notably through the establishment of contractual PPPs, including the HPC PPP. Before that, i.e., by end May 2013, the HPC private side will submit their proposal to the Commission for the establishment of the PPP. The Commission will evaluate this proposal on the basis of the criteria set out in the Horizon 2020 Regulation. In case of a positive evaluation, the results of which will be made publicly available, a contractual arrangement will be concluded between the Commission and the private partners, on the basis of a Commission Decision. The PPP will then be implemented under Horizon 2020 and its annual work programmes.