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Exascale Development Flows to Europe: Is the EU Positioned for a Leadership Role?

The enormity of the exascale development task dictates that the community leverage every last synapse of HPC genius, worldwide. This seems to be a growing consensus among HPC community thought leaders like Jack Dongarra, Thomas Sterling, and others, who have been champions of a coordinated, collaborative global approach — one that has been embodied in The International Exascale Software Project (IESP).

This initiative and its European cousins, PRACE and EESI, are designed to create a roadmap that enables the simultaneous arrival of exascale hardware and a useful software stack. 2009 and 2010 saw key meetings in France, Japan, and the UK that made progress on the roadmap concept, calling for broadly distributed development of a complete exascale software infrastructure. The IESP roadmap may play to the strengths of the EU’s development capabilities. As exascale initiatives emerge from cloistered discussion groups into the bright sunlight provided by actual funding and published job openings, it appears that many of the early checks are in the mail to HPC centers of excellence in Europe — some of which are now sporting shiny new exascale branding.

In the last six to 12 months, IBM, Intel and Cray have all made fresh investments in Europe, (see the sidebar) citing a concentration of skills and resources for the development of super-scaling applications, algorithms, and tools within the borders of the EU. Concerning this early flurry of activity, some speculate that a confluence of government policy, international investment and expanded university programs in HPC may have led to this substantial increase in exascale research activity in Europe. Others suggest that the centers and university programs have always been there and are now attracting investment because their applications provide the right test beds for exascale challenges. Another, perhaps more obvious reason may be that the HPC market in Europe has grown substantially, and companies are simply responding to a growing customer base with more collaboration.

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