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Chemical giant BASF picks HPE for supercomputer deal

By John Oates

Chemical research giant BASF is working with HPE to build a new supercomputer cluster to accelerate its research and modelling capabilities and effectively digitise its worldwide research programme.

The German company chose HPE’s Apollo 6000 system to play a central role in transforming its ability to run virtual and modelled experiments to bolster its industrial chemical research programmes.

The supercomputer will be built and installed at BASF’s headquarters in Ludwigshafen, on the Rhine south of Frankfurt.

Dr. Martin Brudermueller, Vice Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors and Chief Technology Officer at BASF, said: “The new supercomputer will promote the application and development of complex modelling and simulation approaches, opening up completely new avenues for our research at BASF. The supercomputer was designed and developed jointly by experts from HPE and BASF to precisely meet our needs.”

The machines will run on Intel Xeon chips and Omni-Path Fabric managed by HPE software. It can fit up to 160 servers in a single rack, giving a smaller footprint than a standard blade set-up. HPE administration software will simplify administration and workload management, as well as control energy and cooling costs.

The deal will create one of the world’s largest supercomputers for use in private sector chemical research using several hundred computing nodes.

The hardware will give an effective power of one petaflop – one quadrillion floating point operations per second.

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The machine will allow staff at BASF’s 70 research centres around the world to answer complex questions and slash the time required to obtain results from several months to days across all research areas.

Running virtual experiments with the supercomputer is a major part of BASF’s digitisation process. The supercomputer will allow the company to greatly reduce the time to market for new products. It will also cut costs by simulating processes on catalyst surfaces more precisely and accelerating the design of new polymers with pre-defined properties.

Meg Whitman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Hewlett Packard Enterprise said in a statement: “In today’s data-driven economy, high performance computing plays a pivotal role in driving advances in space exploration, biology and artificial intelligence. We expect this supercomputer to help BASF perform prodigious calculations at lightning fast speeds…”

BASF employs 114,000 people around the world. They work in five major segments: Chemicals, Performance Products, Functional Materials & Solutions, Agricultural Solutions and Oil & Gas. The company turned over more than €58bn in 2016.

The company famously invented Styropor (polystyrene) in 1951. It was founded in 1865 as a waste recycling firm and has focussed on reducing pollution and emissions since the 1960s – it is the world’s leading manufacturer of catalytic converters for cars and lorries.

The deal strengthens HPE’s top spot in supercomputer sales. Independent analysts IDC estimated HPE sold more than $440m of supercomputer hardware in the first half of 2016, well ahead of Wuxi’s second place score of $300m. This position pre-dates HPE’s purchase of high performance computing specialist SGI in November 2016.

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