EU Launches One Billion Euros Supercomputing Plan

The European Union will spend one billion euros to try to catch up to China, the U.S. and Japan in supercomputing, the European Commission said. But, according to Bloomberg, as the initiative launches, uncertainty over Brexit is creating anxiety among British computer scientists that the U.K. may miss out on opportunities from the plan.

The goal of the project is for Europe to acquire two "world-class" supercomputers, capable of at least a hundred million billion calculations per second, and at least two mid-range systems, capable of tens of millions of billions of calculations per second, by 2020. The EuroHPC initiative was launched in March last year, with funding specifics unveiled this week.

These machines are stepping stones toward the ultimate goal of the effort, which is to create a next generation "exascale" system "based on EU technology" by 2022. The Commission called the initiative "crucial for the EU’s competitiveness and independence in the data economy."

The EU itself will provide 486 million euros for the project by 2020, with a similar amount coming from individual members states and "associated countries" that sign up for the project. The Commission said private entities, such as companies, could also join the effort and provide "in kind contributions."

Since it was launched in March last year, 13 countries have formally signed up: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland. The U.K. has not formally joined the project so far and some British computer scientists worry that the U.K. will miss out on the potential benefits of the project due to Brexit.

European companies, as well as government departments, particularly weather agencies, increasingly have to rent computing time on supercomputers located in the U.S. or Japan. The E.U. is concerned that doing so increases the chances that sensitive information, including commercial trade secrets and sensitive personal data, could leak. What’s more, in the event of a political crisis, Europe’s access to these supercomputers might be cut off, experts warn.

"It is a tough race and today the EU is lagging behind," Andrus Ansip, the European Commission’s vice president for the digital single market, said in a statement. "We want to give European researchers and companies world-leading supercomputer capacity by 2020."

But the costs involved are steep: today’s fastest supercomputers cost between $50 million to $250 million to design and assemble and several million more per year to run. And developers are targeting a new generation of exaflop systems with costs likely to be as much as $500 million per supercomputer.

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