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2009 Review

Mateo Valero, Director of the BSC-CNS
Francesc Subirada, Associate Director of the BSC-CNS

In 2009 the BSC-CNS extended its role as a key infrastructure for Spanish science with further growth of the RES via the addition of a new node, Atlante, the commitment of long-term funding by the Spanish government for the BSC-CNS to host one of the Tier-0 nodes of PRACE, and the ongoing development of training and information sessions for RES users. This latter is particularly important as the true value in the BSC-CNS lies not with its hardware, but in its development and dissemination of knowledge and skills to apply computing power to solve some of the most difficult challenges facing science and society.

The mission of BSC-CNS is to investigate, develop and manage information technology in order to facilitate scientific progress.

“Nothing tends so much to the advancement of knowledge as the application of a new instrument.” — Sir Humphry Davy Elements of Chemical Philosophy (1812), in J. Davy (ed.), The Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy(1839-40), Vol. 4, 37.

Researchers from across the scientific spectrum, from Biology to Physics to Earth Sciences, and even to the Humanities and Social Sciences, are increasingly leveraging the power of High Performance Computing (HPC) to conduct what is increasingly known as e-Science; modelling situations where experiments are too expensive, highly dangerous, or simply impossible to perform otherwise, and sharing access to unique or distributed scientific facilities, that include data, instruments, computing and communications, regardless of their type and location. e-Science is not just limited to the academic world, with HPC increasingly being used by governments and private industry to solve key challenges and improve competitiveness, as demonstrated by the growth in collaborations between the BSC-CNS and non-academic entities to solve problems as diverse as air pollution modelling to improving yacht designs.

Powerful Computing
The BSC-CNS is the National Supercomputing Facility in Spain and manages MareNostrum, one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe, located at the Torre Girona chapel. When last upgraded in 2008, the Top500 list ranked the MareNostrum as the 10th most powerful supercomputer in Europe and 40th in the world.

At the European level, access to HPC computers of leadership class is essential for international competitiveness in all areas of science and engineering. Currently the two main European shortcomings related with Supercomputing are fragmentation and the lack of a strong HPC industry, with a dominance of US, Japanese and Chinese companies. The PRACE initiative was formed to solve these issues. With a budget of more than €400 million already committed for the first five years, PRACE will not only be a major contributor to the European Research Area, but also a stimulator for disruptive science and technologies, providing unique tools to the European scientific community, boosting European competitiveness and positioning itself strategically as a leader rather than follower in the HPC world.

The BSC-CNS has played a leading role in the development of PRACE, and as one of the founding host sites for a Tier-0 node will reap significant advantages, including adding value to other Spanish infrastructures, strengthening the interface between science and industry through interdisciplinary research contacts, attracting young and enquiring minds, creating technology clusters of associated industries and attracting high-tech firms to install R&D facilities nearby, spawning new spin-off products and start-up companies, increasing Spain´s international reputation and visibility in scientific and high-tech fields, and improving the trans-European and public-private mobility of researchers and new technologies.

The BSC-CNS is an attractor of talent. During 2009, some 340 people performed research or provided support at the centre, as compared to a mere 50 back in 2005 when the center was opened. Over one third of staff are of foreign nationality, with over 33 countries represented including: Argentina, Belgium, Brasil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Montenegro, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Thailand, Turkey, UK, USA and Spain.

Also attracted to the BSC-CNS are the R&D departments and projects of global high-tech firms. IBM and the BSC-CNS are jointly working on developing the supercomputers of the future, whilst joint projects with Microsoft are applying the concepts of parallelism to the next generation of workstations.

Locally, the BSC-CNS provides sustainable competitive advantage to Spanish firms. The flagship of such projects is with REPSOL in the development of a world-leading technology to process massive amounts of seismic data. This is already being applied in search of remote deposits of oil and gas and in the near future will also be applied to CO2 capture and storage.

Within their respective fields, the research departments of the BSC-CNS continue to build their reputation for excellence at an international level. For example, the Computer Science department is coordinating the European FP7 project VELOX to improve understandings of transactional memory designs by developing an integrated transactional memory stack, from the hardware level, including CPU designs, through to application environments. If successful, such a system could become the tool-of-choice for concurrent programming on multi- and many-core platforms.

Support and Research
The BSC-CNS, which provides both Support to other research institutes, as well as undertaking primary Research in its own right, is organised into 6 core departments; Computer Sciences, Life Sciences, Earth Sciences, Operations, Computer Applications in e-Science & Engineering (CASE), and Management.

The Support functions provide technical and operational support to internal and external researchers and scientists, collaborators and other institutions and industrial partners. In particular, the Operations Department also manages all activities relating to the MareNostrum supercomputer and access to the other nodes of the RES. The various departments have a number of scientific research groups, each headed by a Team Leader, which focus their activities on the study of hardware and system software for the supercomputers of the future and on the application of computer simulation in the fields of genomics, proteomics and dynamic Earth processes.

The Life Sciences department is involved in numerous international projects such as MITIN to model mitochondrial function and insulin signaling in order to better understand complex diseases, and ELIXIR to establish a Europe-wide biological information infrastructure to support the application of life science research to medicine, the environment, bio-industries and society.

Meanwhile, the Earth Sciences department is extending its highly successful CALIOPE project to include Andalucia and the Canary Islands, funded directly by those local governments. CALIOPE is a detailed air quality forecasting system for Spain, with applications in modeling the potential impacts on air quality of proposed developments and industries as well as natural phenomena, thereby providing a useful planning tool as well as a forecasting service.

The Computer Applications in Science and Engineering department further advanced its development of both fundamental numerical modelling issues, such as efficient solving strategies (including preconditioners, parallel strategies and fractional schemes) and applied models, such as simulations of the respiratory system, the brain's arterial system, seismic imaging and sailing boat designs.

The BSC-CNS also continues to develop applied technology systems to provide new tools for solving extremely complex problems. Key amongst these tools is the Alya system, a computational mechanics toolbox specially designed for highly efficient performance in large scale supercomputing facilities. Alya is capable of solving various different physics problems, each with very different modeling characteristics, including airflows, acoustics, thermal flows, solid mechanics, quantum mechanics and more. Another highlight is the Star Superscalar (StarSs) programming model which is being adapted to various platforms to facilitate the parallelisation of applications onto multicore systems.

Broad Access
The powerful resources of the MareNostrum Supercomputer and the RES nodes are accessed by a broad spectrum of Spanish and international scientists. Computing time is allocated by the Access Committee, composed of a Core Team and four Expert Panels of prestigious Spanish scientists external to the BSC-CNS. Additionally, a percentage of computing time is reserved for commercial projects to enable Spanish companies to maintain international competitiveness.

In addition to the projects undertaken by the BSC-CNS research departments, over 235 external activities utilised some 75 million hours of computation on RES systems. These activities, representing fields of science as diverse as medicine, astrophysics and social sciences, are evaluated for merit and prioritised by an independent Access Committee. Requests for access come from all over Spain, and indeed all over Europe, testifying to both the quality of the RES facilities and the ever increasing demand for supercomputing resources. Requests for access have been steadily increasing above the level of increased computing power and are now more than double the available computing time.

The work carried out by the scientists at BSC-CNS resulted in over 90 journals and book chapter publications, 111 key conference presentations and a number of new patent filings. Additionally, BSC-CNS researchers presented numerous workshops at both national and international levels, and the centre hosted a number of key international events.

Patrons of the BSC-CNS
The BSC-CNS is a legally autonomous, public consortium, with three founding partners, the Spanish Ministry of Science & Innovation (MICINN), the Departament d’Innovació, Universitats i Empresa (DIUE) of the Catalan government and the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC). The voting representation is divided between MICINN (51%), DIUE (37%), and UPC (12%).

The income of the BSC-CNS in 2009 was €20.1 M of which €6.6 M corresponded to the ordinary budget coming from the patrons of the BSC-CNS, the Spanish and Catalan Governments; and €8.1 M from competitive projects. Of particular note, €3.9 M of funding was derived from projects with private companies. In 2009, the BSC-CNS participated in 23 competitively funded EU projects, 37 collaborative projects with industry and 14 national projects. The successes of 2009 would not have been possible without the commitment, hard work, and bright ideas of the staff, students, collaborators and visiting researchers who contributed to the BSC-CNS and continue to build the international reputation of the BSC-CNS as a centre of excellence in High Performance Computing and e- Science. The Directors wish to express their profound gratitude to all who worked with the BSC-CNS throughout the year, and also give thanks and recognition to the patrons of the BSC-CNS; MICINN, DIUE and UPC for their continued strong support, and to the various funding agencies and private companies who sponsored research and development activities. This continued strong support during a difficult economic period is particularly encouraging and much appreciated.

Mateo Valero, Director..............................Francesc Subirada, Associate Director
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