The European Union’s Council of Ministers has backed plans to invest €1 billion in European supercomputers, with a new legal and funding structure formed for the initiative.
This, the commission said, will build supercomputing and data infrastructure and support supercomputing R&D for scientists, businesses, and industry.
“Data is the raw material of our digital economy,” said Andrus Ansip, commission VP for the Digital Single Market. “We need supercomputers to process it, develop artificial intelligence, and find solutions to complex questions in areas like health and security.
“Today, most of our researchers and companies need to go outside of Europe to find the first-class computers they need. The EU cannot afford to lag behind.”
Nine out of the world’s 10 most powerful supercomputers are in either the US or Asia, according to this year’s TOP500 list.
EU Supercomputer Boost
The European Council (EC) said the structure will be primarily focused on two areas. The first will be to buy two EU supercomputers that are among the top five in the world and another two in the top 25. Industry in the EU consumes over 33 percent of supercomputing resources worldwide, but supplies only 5 percent, the EC added.
These will then be interconnected with national supercomputers and made available in Europe to public and private users, including SMBs.
The second, it said, will be R&D that supports development of a European ecosystem. This would “stimulate a technology supply industry” to make supercomputing resources more generally available in Europe.
The Luxembourg-based joint undertaking will be established this November and is expected to start operating by early next year at the latest. It will then remain operational until 2026.
“The joint undertaking is expected to start operating at the latest by early 2019 in order to reach the target of equipping the EU with a pre-exascale and petascale infrastructure by 2020, and developing the necessary technologies and applications for reaching exascale (which allows at least 1018 calculations per second) capabilities around 2022 to 2023,” the EU said earlier this year.
Brexit Britain’s Supercomputers “Best in Europe”
Twenty-five European countries have signed up for the joint undertaking: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain.
The UK is notably absent in the run-up to its official departure from the EU on March 29.
Georg von Harrach, European Parliament reporter for the BBC, tweeted at the time of the council agreement that the UK would contribute through EU funds.
“Britain has its own supercomputer which is currently the best in Europe.”
EU ministers agree to develop supercomputer power. I understand the UK has not signed up to it, but will contribute through EU funds. Britain has its own supercomputer which is currently the best in Europe. https://t.co/k1p2PYysjY pic.twitter.com/hbzYvkXZGc
— Georg von Harrach (@georgvh) June 26, 2018
Mark Parsons, director of the EPPC supercomputing centre at the University of Edinburgh, told Bloomberg earlier this year that UK participation would depend on whether the UK is considered an “associated country” of the EU post-Brexit.
“Associated countries can participate in the research programs just like a member state,” Parsons said. While research teams from “third countries,” by contrast, can bid to work on EU science projects but cannot receive any EU funding, Bloomberg added.
Conversely, Brussels-based economic historian Alex von Witzleben told CBR that the UK being left out of the joint understanding could mean “a new referendum”.
“Many UK citizens are only now becoming aware of far-reaching and largely invisible advantages of the EU, which the UK cannot achieve on its own,” he told CBR.
See also: UK Puts Arm into Supercomputer Arms Race
The €1 billion joint undertaking takes half its budget from the EU and the other half from participating member states. Another €400 billion will come from private partners. The EC also plans to invest another €2.7 billion as part of the Digital Europe Program.
This aims to address “increasingly digital challenges” Europe will face with an investment of €9.2 billion. These include high-performance computing, AI, cybersecurity and advanced digital skills.