Swiss supercomputing – a closer look

Swiss supercomputing is making headlines again after the recent upgrades made to the flagship “Piz Daint” machine. Notably, the system is now #2 on the supercomputing Green500 list and #8 on top Top500 list. It is operated by the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre and could easily be considered a Swiss crown jewel.

The Cray-built XC50 supercomputer was submitted to the November Top500 with over 200’000 Intel x86 cores. A performance of 9.78 PFlops (RMax) was obtained at only 1.3 MW. Current performance per Watt is double that of the system submitted to the June Top500: 7.45 GFlops/W as opposed to 3.58 GFlops/W previously.

These improvements were obtained by using more efficient Intel CPUs and a major upgrade to NVIDIA GPUs based on the Pascal architecture. Consequently, the number of Top500 cores went up by nearly 80%, while power went down by 25%.

Piz Daint and other Swiss supercomputers in CSCS are part of the Swiss national supercomputing service, providing academia, the public sector and national projects with number crunching power. For instance, like other countries, Switzerland supports its national weather forecasting service, enabling a 2.2 km high-resolution grid. If there should be any doubt, simulating weather in such a mountainous country 8 times a day is no easy feat. Another interesting application is the analysis of data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. The LHC is the biggest machine ever built by man, to smash particles at a speed near the speed of light. LHC detectors produce an avalanche of data coming in at a rate of multiple petabytes per second, which is later filtered, analyzed and stored by a grid of 170 computer systems.

The Blue Brain IV system

Last but not least, one of the CSCS systems, an IBM Blue Gene/Q, was acquired from the Blue Brain Project at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. The system is particularly well suited for brain simulations and neuroscientific research. It has a simulation capacity of 200 million neurons, comparable to a brain of a rodent. An interesting tidbit: many of the CSCS supercomputers are named after prominent Swiss peaks.

If you’re curious to see the impressive infrastructure in person, the center holds guided visits, which can be subscribed to through its webpage.

Images: CSCS