If all goes well, MareNostrum V will start operating in the second half of 2022. It is the fifth supercomputer with this name managed by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center – Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS). A story that dates back to 2004, when the first steps were taken to build a supercomputer that would be a reference in Spain, in Europe and in the world.
The first named MareNostrum was built at the IBM Technical Center in Madrid, then he was transferred to Barcelona, in luxury facilities, the Torre Girona chapel, which earned him another award. Almost two decades later, the BSC-CNS directly employs 765 professionals, has facilitated the creation of six associated companies and its successive versions of MareNostrum appear in the TOP500, the reference list of fastest supercomputers of the world. The last thing we know is that last October, the BSC-CNS opened a new headquarters. About 12,000 square meters that will house offices, laboratories and what will be known as MareNostrum V, the flagship supercomputer of this supercomputing center.
Created in 2005, the Barcelona Supercomputing Center – National Supercomputing Center has been the protagonist and has been present in the race to obtain the best supercomputer. A race led by China and the United States. Just look at the TOP500 list, which is updated twice a year. First, there is always a supercomputer from these countries. And sometimes a Japanese or a European sneaks in. Interestingly, in the November 2004 list, fourth place was occupied by a european machine based in Barcelona. The first Mare Nostrum. A project that was born on the right foot and which continues to struggle to gain a foothold in such a competitive sector.
Before traveling to 2004, it’s time to see why is it a supercomputer. They are expensive, take up a lot of space, become obsolete in a short time and consume a lot of energy. To start them, you need the collaboration and investment private companies and public administrations as well as universities, research centers and scientists from different disciplines and areas of knowledge. How important are supercomputers?
A look at the latest research sponsored by the BSC-CNS gives us an idea of why we need supercomputers. Or rather the scientists. Supercomputing allows perform complex calculations at much faster speeds than with a computer to use. Thus, MareNostrum managers receive requests from Spanish and European companies, universities and research centers to accelerate their research. Requests that are on a list and that occur almost continuously. Supercomputers never sleep. And as powerful as your iPhone is, a supercomputer will be even more so.
Thanks to a supercomputer, you can create simulations, calculate probabilities and get answers to major scientific questions related to climate change, our DNA, artificial intelligence, new sources of energy or the anticipation of climatic phenomena such as hurricanes or volcanic eruptions. All thanks to the fact that a supercomputer can manage and process a huge amount of data and make sense of them at a speed that would take humans many lifetimes to achieve.
MareNostrum 1 was inaugurated on April 12, 2005 in Barcelona. As I mentioned above, it is installed in the Chapel of the Tower of Girona, next to the rectorate of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. In turn, inside this building there is a glass dome which protects the supercomputer and facilitates the maintenance of a suitable climate. A practically unique building that has been one of the badges or characteristics of this supercomputer. To make this 150 square meter, 45 ton machine possible, the then Ministry of Education and Science, the Generalitat de Catalunya and the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya had to join forces. And in its manufacture, with a budget of 70 million euros, IBM participated exclusively.
The most visible side of the project? Matthew Valerothen professor of computer architecture, professor at the UPC and who from then until today has been director of the BSC-CNS center which hosts and manages this supercomputer. Precisely with the start of the MareNostrum supercomputer, the National Center for Intensive Computing was also born, which will ensure its proper functioning and constant renewal.
As reported by the press of the time, MareNostrum gives its first cases in three areas of research: earth sciences, life sciences and computer science. This translates into projects related to the environment, aeronautics, meteorology, energy, nanotechnology, chemistry and computational physics.
The more than 4,500 processors
Before opening MareNostrum 1 in Barcelona, IBM had to build it. This phase of the project took place over two months in the IBM Technical Center, in San Fernando de Henares, Madrid. There the supercomputer was built and the performance tests were carried out. In total, 150 square meters and 45 tons of weight. A large machine protected by a cube-shaped showcase. This would make it easier to control aspects such as humidity or temperature.
Responsible for the IBM construction, the processors of this supercomputer were Power PC 970 FX Single 2.2 GHz core. A total of 4,812 processors. These were installed in 2,406 js20 servers from IBM (two processors per server), placed inside 163 cabinets called Blade centers. In turn, the servers were connected by Myrinet network technology and fiber optic cables.
More data from the MareNostrum 1 datasheet. It had 9.6TB of main memory and 236TB of storage. To make this possible, 20 storage servers organized in 7 racks were installed. A total of 560 disks of 512 GB capacity each. As a filesystem, we used GPFS (Global Parallel File System). And to manage all this software was used SuSe Linuxthe then-popular German cast.
As for its electricity consumption, according to the press of the time: the energy necessary for its operation is 600 KW, which is equivalent to 6,000 100-watt light bulbs. Of course, this first version of MareNostrum did not need an additional cooling system.
Once MareNostrum was built at IBM’s facilities, relevant tests were performed to verify its performance. This test, called linen bundle, resulted in a maximum processing capacity of 31,363 teraflops. And a sustained speed of 20,530 teraflops. With these results, this great supercomputer tops the list as the fastest in Spain, the fastest in Europe and the fourth fastest in the world.
Thus, in the TOP500 list of November 2004, in the TOP5 there were three American supercomputers, one Japanese and the MareNostrum in fourth place. A milestone in European and Spanish supercomputing. And it hasn’t happened since. Successive MareNostrums appeared in the TOP100, but well below this initial position.
In successive updates of the TOP500 of supercomputers, the ever more ambitious proposals of China and the United States as well as other less represented countries such as Japan, Germany or Switzerland. In this case, in a single year, from November 2004 to November 2005, the MareNostrum fell from position 4 to position 8. Such is the competitiveness of this sector.
However, the expansion of this supercomputer in 2006 will make it appear in a better position in the TOP500 of November 2006. More precisely, in fifth place, thanks to its record of 62.6 Teraflops with a peak of 94.2 Teraflops. For this, the original processors have been replaced by 5,120 dual-core processors in the JS21 servers. Memory has also been expanded to 20 terabytes and 390 terabytes of storage. The MareNostrum will have given way to its successor, the MareNostrum 2.
We started this article with the MareNostrum V, still awaiting manufacture along with seven other European supercomputers. Currently it is the Mare Nostrum 4 the main exponent of supercomputing in Spain and a great pillar at European level. In a Europe that wants to technologically stop depending on China and the United States. But this is another story.