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EU exascale projects unite around ARM-based prototype

THREE EUROPEAN supercomputer projects are to collaborate on the building blocks for an exascale architecture prototype. Exascale computing refers to systems capable of one exaflop, or a billion billion calculations a second.

Unlike with other exascale supercomputing initiatives, the three project partners – Exanest, Exanode and Ecoscale – plan to focus their efforts on the ARM64+FPGA architecture as the foundation.

“It will take 10 million processors working together to achieve exascale. It’s the equivalent of asking 10 million individuals to solve, in a single second, a problem that would normally take one person three months,” said Exanest.

The scheme is being funded by the European Union’s Horizon2020 Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development.

The three partners have been given different roles: Exanest will focus on the system level, which will include interconnect, storage and cooling; Exanode on the compute nodes and the memory in the nodes; and Ecoscale on the reconfigurable logic in the system.

The companies will bring in others from across Europe to help in various areas. Liquid cooling specialist IceoTope will help Exanest with the cooling systems, for example, while software tool maker Allinea will provide ARMv8 profiling and debugging tools.

The aim is to complete a very basic ‘straw man’ prototype by the end of the year. The core design will encompass “energy-efficient ARM cores, quiet and power-efficient liquid cooling, non-volatile (flash) memories integrated into the processor fabric, and the development of innovative, fast interconnects that avoid congestion”, according to the Forth Institute of Computer Science in Greece.

Exanest project coordinator Manolis Katevenis, who is also head of computer architecture at FORTH-ICS in Greece, explained that the aim is to put together an early prototype so that applications can start to be ported and tuned.

“For the remainder of the two years, there will be ongoing software development, plus research on interconnects, storage and cooling technologies. We also believe that there will be new interesting compute nodes coming out from our partner projects, and we will use such nodes,” he told HPC Wire.

The 64-bit microprocessor technology was chosen for two reasons. The project wanted its relative low-power consumption for ecological reasons and because it will enable more cores to be packaged together without generating excessive heat. In addition, ARM64 is a widely known and used microprocessor architecture which should help organisations to write or port software to the new architecture.

The race to build exascale-level computing is very much geopolitical, and the US, Japan and the European Union are all attempting to be the first to unveil a properly working supercomputer.

Japan’s Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science in Kobe has already announced a 2020 deadline for its efforts

The US Congress, meanwhile, voted in 2013 to build an exascale system by 2024.

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