VUB to manage fastest Flemish supercomputer from 2025

The Free University of Brussels (VUB) was chosen to house and manage the Flemish Tier-1 supercomputer from 2025, it announced on Wednesday.

The Flemish Supercomputer Centre (VSC) has decided that the Free University of Brussels will manage the fastest computer in Flanders from 2025. To this end, the VUB is building the Nexus data centre at its Green Energy Park site in Zellik, which will be "the greenest data centre in Belgium".

The VSC is a collaboration between the five Flemish university associations and provides infrastructure and support to perform large-scale scientific computations in Flanders. This consists of supercomputers, a cloud environment and large data storage capacity.

Two tiers

The supercomputers form the basis for future scientific innovation and are divided into two tiers: Tier-2, of which each university has one in its own data centre, and Tier-1, of which there is only one for the whole of Flanders. The predecessor of the Tier-1 computer, Hortense, is currently managed by UGent.

The Tier-1 supercomputer differs from Tier-2 computers in terms of size and computing power. "You can do many more calculations in the same amount of time and perform much more complex data analysis and simulations, even if they require a large amount of data," says Ward Poelmans, head of VUB's Scientific Data and Compute Department.

The Tier-1 supercomputer is available to Flemish researchers, companies and SMEs, but they must first submit an application. A committee of foreign experts decides whether they are granted computing time or not. They have to check whether the users are using the supercomputer efficiently in order to keep its computing power accessible to everyone.

Costly technology

Managing the Tier-1 supercomputer comes with a cost. The computer's power consumption is sky-high, and cooling the machine also requires a lot of energy. To reduce energy costs, solar panels and 'free air cooling', a system that uses low outside air temperatures to aid cooling, are used. The computer is only actively cooled during hot months.

"Supercomputers are of strategic importance for Flanders," said Jo Brouns, Flemish minister for Science Policy and Innovation. "Our Flemish researchers, government and industry will be able to continue working on the big challenges of tomorrow thanks to this infrastructure." These include simulating climate change and training AI models. The Tier-1 supercomputer was also used to map the spread of the COVID-19 virus.


#FlandersNewsService | A French supercomputer. © STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP


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