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Three decades of supercomputers

Cray X-MP, CSC Archive

Three decades of supercomputers

Hannu Mourujärvi

The Finnish research community has been using computers since the Univac 1108, but the era of "supercomputers" is considered to have begun in Finland in the autumn of 1989, when the Cray X-MP was installed in the computer room of the State Computer Centre, the predecessor CSC.

Let there be Cray

The Cray X-MP was put in effective use at the beginning of year 1990. In addition to higher education institutions, it was to benefit Finnish industry. Unlike today, the possibilities of computing power were not fully understood by industry, but the X-MP was used to simulate the vibrations of a Saab convertible and of a ship deck and for modelling a controllable pitch propeller, to mention a few.

After four years, Cray X-MP began to show signs of aging in form of high maintenance costs. One alternative would have been to lease another system, the Cray Y-MP, but it was deemed too expensive. Eventually,  it was decided that the Cray X-MP lifecycle would be extended, as the maintenance costs were dropped but the RAM and disk space were doubled.

Interim solution prior to parallel computing

In May of 1995, a second Cray C94 was taken into use. It represented the same vector processing capacity as its predecessor, the X-MP. The computer served as an effective interim solution until the following parallel processing-based Cray T3E was introduced.

Instead of a conventional vector processor technology, the Cray T3E was based on a new parallel processing architecture, in which computing tasks are distributed to scalar processors.

The T3E was deployed in June of 1996 and was for years the most powerful computer in the Nordic countries.

Towards metacomputing

At the end of the 1990s, the CSC computing environment began to evolve towards "metacomputer", i.e. a computing environment consisting of different computers in which a run queue system assigns the computing task to the most suitable computer.

The IBM SP Power3, whose computing power was equal to that of the Cray T3E, was inaugurated in fall 2000. The SP Power 3 was replaced in 2002 by the IBM p690 Power4.

Louhi and Murska

Installation of the Cray XT4 (more commonly known as "Louhi") began in mid-2006 and it was deployed in June 2007. In connection with acquisition of Cray, a decision was made to also acquire additional cluster capacity - in this case, the HP Proliant CP400, which was dubbed "Murska". It was made available for customers in July 2007.

Sisu and Taito

The Cray XC40 and HP Apollo 6000 XL230a/SL230s Supercluster, otherwise known as "Sisu" and "Taito", were installed in Kajaani in an old paper mill located in the Renforsin Ranta business park. Sisu and Taito, whose names were suggested by Kajaani schoolchildren, were inaugurated in April 2013. They served the needs of science and culture successfully for nearly seven years.

Sisu was decommissioned in August 2019 and replaced by the new supercomputers "Puhti" and "Mahti". Taito will remain in use until the end of 2019, after which 20 of its P100 computing cores will be incorporated into the cPouta Community Cloud service.

Puhti and Mahti

Puhti was inaugurated in Kajaani on 23 September 2019. The Atos BullSequana X400 (a.k.a. "Puhti") and its Puhti-AI, which is intended for artificial intelligence research and artificial intelligence applications, doubled CSC's computing capacity compared to their predecessors.

In early 2020, the second part of the computing environment - supercomputer "Mahti" - will be deployed. Mahti is a BullSequana XH2000 system. Together, Puhti and Mahti will increase CSC's computing power six-fold compared to the previous Sisu and Taito supercomputers.

This increase in computing capacity is supported by the Allas data management system, which is based on CEPH object storage technology and offers a storage capacity of 12 petabytes for the storage, distribution and analysis of data.

LUMI EuroHPC

The European High-Performance Computing Joint Undertaking (EuroHPC JU) is increasing the level of cooperation in high-performance computing in Europe. The EuroHPC JU is helping to establish a world-class computing and data management research infrastructure in Europe. The first objective of EuroHPC JU is to acquire three pre-exascale supercomputers by 2021.

In June of 2019, a decision was made to place one of the three supercomputers intended for world-class research in CSC's datacenter in Kajaani. The LUMI (Large Unified Modern Infrastructure) consortium consists of Finland, Belgium, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Estonia.

During its service life (2021-2026), LUMI will be one of the most well-known scientific computing instruments in the world.

 



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