European Strategy for HPC and Exascale

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In February 2012 the European Commission (EC) published a Communication highlighting the strategic nature of High Performance Computing (HPC) as a crucial asset for the European Union’s (EU’s) innovation capacity, proposing a series of activities that could lead to European leadership in both the supply and the use of HPC systems and services by 2020.

The Communication views HPC as an important tool in addressing societal and scientific grand challenges, and in helping industry to be more innovative and competitive. It notes that while Europe buys 32% of the world’s HPC systems, it only provides 4.3% of these systems. European HPC capacity decreased by 10% from 2008 to 2010, while the US and Japan each have more HPC capacity than all European countries combined, and both China and Russia have declared HPC an area of strategic priority funded by significant investment. The EU has significant strengths in the areas of scientific and engineering software, as well as parallel software development.

In 1975 Europe set up the European Space Agency as it saw independent access to space as being a strategic goal for Europe. The Commission advocates a similar strategic decision for HPC systems and services.

The Opportunity

The move to Exascale systems is different to previous HPC technology transitions. Whereas the advance from one generation of HPC technologies to the next has often been a case of “more of the same but bigger and faster”, the move to Exascale requires fundamental changes to many aspects of HPC components, systems and software. The scale of these changes bring significant risks for incumbent suppliers, and opportunities for emerging players.

These changes are driven by the need to reduce power consumption for HPC systems by a factor of 100, which impacts how components and systems are built, and how systems with millions of heterogeneous processors are programmed. Many of the technical capabilities and skills needed to address the Exascale challenge can be found in Europe, including parallel programming, low-power computing, and systems integration.

PRACE (the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe) leads the way by coordinating the access of high end and mid range academic HPC systems across Europe on the basis of scientific excellence, supported by expertise and training to help make best use of these resources.

Proposed Action Plan

The Communication proposed that a world class HPC infrastructure should be provided for European academic and industrial users (with a focus on support for SMEs), and that Europe’s position as a supplier of HPC technologies should be strengthened. The governance for this activity should cover both industry (through an industry led technology platform) and science (through PRACE).

It is proposed that the annual funding for European HPC R&D be increased from €630 million in 2009 to €1.2 billion to make this activity competitive at a global level. The additional €600 million would come from national budgets, the Commission and industrial users. Half of the new funding would be to fund the procurement of HPC systems and testbeds, with the remainder split evenly between training and software.

Public sector pre-commercial procurements should be used to develop and maintain a range of native EU supply capabilities covering everything from processors to applications. Centres of excellence should be established for HPC application areas where Europe has specific strengths. Collaboration and skills cross-fertilisation between the PRACE centres and European industry is encouraged. The Commission will continue to support PRACE as an integral part of European e-Infrastructure for HPC. Hardware and software co-design centres should be set up. HPC Competence Centres can help SMEs exploit the potential benefits of HPC. Training is of high importance to bring the benefits of HPC to a wider audience.

To build a strong European HPC supply industry the EU needs to ensure that local suppliers have fair access to world markets. The Commission should raise inequalities in HPC market access in trade negotiations where appropriate.


The European Commission uses workshops populated by invited experts to help direct its research programme. The recommendations from two recent workshops augmented the action plan proposed in the HPC Communication.

A workshop on HPC and Big Data proposed that the EC provide HPC enabling support for SMEs, support application modernisation for compute and data intensive applications, and use pre-commercial procurement to drive European developed HPC products, delivering Exascale at the high end, Petascale at a departmental level and Terascale in your pocket.

A second workshop, Towards a Breakthrough in Software for Advanced Computing Systems, recommended the modernisation of Europe’s industrial software base, bridging the skills gap and “thinking parallel” through a broad based training initiative, and developing domain-oriented computational model and programming approaches.


The common threads that run (at least partly) through both the PRACE series of projects and these recent strategic initiatives are the provision of world class HPC facilities to academia and industry, training to significantly expand the pool of parallel-capable programmers, focussed support to enable SMEs to better exploit HPC, modernisation of European applications in order to make more efficient use of next generation HPC platforms, advances in development tools and pre-commercial procurements to support the European HPC supply side industry.

The PRACE initiative covers HPC issues that impact the academic community well, but wide support for industry (ISVs, SME users and the European HPC supply side) is not yet there. The first calls for proposals for Horizon 2020 ( the European Framework Programme for Research and Innovation running from 2014 to 2020 with a €20 billion budget) will translate these strategic initiatives into real commitments with associated funding. In the meantime, the 2013 Work Programme for the Seventh Framework Programme (2007-2013) will start to cover these bases providing support for HPC-Cloud powered simulation services; pre-exascale computing platforms, software and applications (with a focus on the competitiveness of European industry); and HPC research associated with energy-efficient data centres.

For related stories, visit The Exascale Report Archives