In December 2009, the Swiss government approved the National Strategic Plan for High-Performance Computing and Networking (HPCN Strategy) compiled by the ETH Board on behalf of the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). The Confederation, the ETH Domain and universities therefore paved the way for an internationally competitive Swiss supercomputer network. With the provision of CHF 172.5 million, CSCS received an ultramodern new building in Lugano to house and operate its supercomputing infrastructure. The building opened its doors in 2012 and, with Piz Daint, a Cray XC30 – also funded via the strategy – received Switzerland’s first petaflop computer.
Ulmer goes on to describe how new initiatives were then launched that focussed on optimizing software and hardware to improve the energy efficiency of supercomputing. The Platform for High Performance and High Productivity Computing (HP2C) was launched in 2009, with the aid of funding from the HPCN Strategy, and was followed by the Platform for Advanced Scientific Computing (PASC) initiative in 2012. These initiatives were largely instigated by the current director of CSCS, and ETH Zurich professor, Thomas Schulthess, who has been running the computer center since October 2008. Besides improved software in various application fields, a physical manifestation of these efforts is the hybrid supercomputing system Piz Daint, which uses graphics and conventional processors for its calculations. Piz Daint enables researchers to simulate highly complex problems even more realistically and efficiently than before, and structure and analyze large quantities of data – like those produced by the large hadron collider (LHC) at CERN, for instance.
“One goal of the HPCN Strategy was to support top-flight research in Switzerland and thus safeguard the country’s competitive edge. In the meantime, Switzerland currently has the most powerful supercomputer in Europe, which is used by around 600 researchers from this country and aboard. Moreover, the successful initiatives HP2C and PASC led to a close collaboration with Università della Svizzera italiana (USI), especially in the field of Data Science and gave rise to the annual PASC Conference. First held in 2014, it has quickly grown in scale and international reputation.”
Today, CSCS is a scientific computer center with an international reputation that offers comprehensive services in the field of hardware and software. In fact, MeteoSwiss began using CSCS for its weather forecasts in 2001. CSCS has also operated a cluster for the Swiss Institute of Particle Physics (CHIPP) since 2007 and the Blue Brain project’s supercomputer since 2013.