Do you know what a gigabyte is? You probably do – it is a measure of data storage, enough to hold 20 albums of music, or 542 copies of War and Peace.
But do you know what a gigaflops is? That is a little more difficult to answer. It is a measure of computer performance. FLOPS (or flops) are floating point operations per second. So a gigaflops is roughly one billion floating operations per second. Your average laptop computer can run at anything between 250 gigaflops and 400 gigaflops – enough to browse the internet, run your office software, play games, and run photo-editing software.
However, laptops are not the most powerful computers around. That honour belongs to a class of machines in the category of high performance computing, or HPC for short. HPC systems are measured not in gigaflops, but today in petaflops (one million billion operations per second) and soon in exaflops (one billion billion operations per second – or the same as the combined computing power of all the mobile phones in the EU!).
These massive numbers are today a reality. One example is the EU co-funded LUMI supercomputer in Finland, capable of a peak of 550 petaflops. This is the same as the combined power of 1.5 million laptops. If these laptops were stacked on top of each other, it would make a tower over 23 kilometres high!
And such HPC systems and what they do are already central to our lives. They carry out complex tasks where a lot of data needs to be analysed and allow us to create models to study and better understand such complex challenges as: simulating drug molecules for medicines, rural and town planning, and designing new materials, cars, and aircraft.
In the near future exciting new EU projects powered by HPC systems will come online to make a digital twin of the Earth, which will better simulate and predict environmental and climate-related changes and help decision makers to better plan and cope with impacts. There are also plans for a digital twin of a human being, theoretically allowing us to tailor medical treatments to individuals’ physiology and needs.
The EU also plans to fund projects that combine quantum mechanics and computing with HPC systems to allow even more complex simulations in areas such as drug discovery, secure and encrypted communications, and ultra-precise clocks. To help the EU become a world leader in quantum computing and technologies, it is helping to fund projects that bring together researchers and industry players in quantum.
HPC systems are impressive, but they are complex and expensive. No one European country can go it alone and expect to compete globally in creating HPC systems. That is why the EU created the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking (EuroHPC JU). This body brings together resources from the EU, participating countries, and private partners, to strengthen Europe’s position as a leading HPC power, and make such a resource available to European researchers, industry and smaller businesses. The EU plans to further invest €7 billion until 2033 in HPC systems.