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POLICY | 09 March 2021

High-Performance Computing

High performance computing (HPC), also known as supercomputing, refers to computing systems with extremely high computational power that are able to solve hugely complex and demanding problems. In the digital era, HPC is at the core of major advances and innovation, and a strategic resource for Europe's future.

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In today’s world, larger and larger amounts of data are constantly being generated, from 33 zettabytes globally in 2018 to an expected 175 zettabytes in 2025 (1 zettabyte is equal to 1 trillion gigabytes). As a result, the nature of computing is changing, with an increasing number of data-intensive critical applications. HPC is key to processing and analysing this growing volume of data, and to making the most of it for the benefit of citizens, businesses, researchers and public administrations.

HPC can be used in a large number of application areas: from monitoring and mitigating the effects of climate change and producing safer and greener vehicles to increasing cybersecurity and advancing the frontiers of knowledge in nearly every scientific field. It is also starting to play a key role in medicine: HPC can be used in drug design, from testing drug candidate molecules to repositioning existing drugs for new diseases, but also helps to understand the origins and evolution of epidemics and diseases. Supercomputers are actively involved in the quest for treatments for COVID-19.

Moreover, HPC has proved to be of great importance in developing new applications and products, with a direct impact on the digital supply chain, such as designing new materials, cars and aeroplanes, and bioengineering and manufacturing.

Today, world-class supercomputers are able to perform more than 1015, i.e. at least one million billion, operations per second (petascale performance), with a few top-of-the-range systems exceeding 1017, i.e. at least one hundred million billion, operations per second (pre-exascale performance). The next generation (exascale) will perform more than one billion billion (1018) operations per second, a computing power level comparable to aggregating the computing capabilities of the mobile phones of the EU’s entire population. The world’s first exascale supercomputer is expected to be operational in 2021.

HPC is one of the key digital domains where the EU's investment is due to significantly increase in the next Multiannual Financial Framework (2021-2027). Moreover, supercomputing will play a key role in Europe’s path towards recovery, as it has been identified a strategic investment priority.

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