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June 2006
Hot topics
• High Performance Computing: a major challenge for Europe. Interview with Daniel Verwaerde, CEA   • Open Source: a pragmatic choice
Interview with Janick Taillandier, RATP

Reporting from the Cannes conference devoted to "IT Architectures: The New European Dynamic": Daniel Verwaerde from the CEA and Janick Taillandier from the RATP have agreed to talk to us in Bull Direct; next month two other large customers Extremadura and France Télécom will do the same.

See also: Cannes "IT architectures: the new European dynamic" videos >>

High Performance Computing: a major challenge for Europe
Interview with Daniel Verwaerde, Director of the nuclear weapons at the French Atomic Energy Authority (CEA), responsible for digital simulation and information technology for the French nuclear deterrent.
In 2005, the United States laid claim to the top five places in the Top 500 league of supercomputers. The 2006 listing will be published shortly. So will Europe have caught up, or at least have started to work towards redressing the balance?
It is true that Europe is falling behind to an alarming degree. Public and private players alike need to invest and develop synergies as a matter or urgency; it is our future that hangs in the balance. HPC is a strategic issue that no major nation can ignore, and the USA is taking the lead by devoting considerable sums to this area. Japan, India, and China are also making substantial investments, with a view to controlling the whole technology value chain for the latter.
HPC is essential because it enables the progress of scientific and technical research in every area: from electronics, aeronautical engineering and climatology, to biology and environmental science. And it brings as many benefits in terms of social progress as does for the economy and industry.
With the spread of globalization, the speed of development is today more crucial than ever for business. Digital simulation, accelerated by the emergence of open supercomputers, enables us to design and develop new products more quickly, and very competitively. In every area of research, it is taking on a more important role in comparison to the more costly and time-consuming traditional experimental methods. In 2006, we are in the middle of the teraflop2 era, and the next few years will see us enter the era of the petaflop3 . Will Europe be ready to take on these challenges? Two areas are urgently in need of a concerted effort. We need to:
• Help communities with developing code
• Enhance Europe’s capabilities when it comes to technological innovation. Bull, as the only totally European IT maker, is best placed to be at the heart of the development of the new generation of supercomputers and future software platforms.
Accelerating co-operation between players is the only way to regain lost ground in scientific research, the main driver of future competitive positioning and employment in this part of the world. This is an issue of strategic importance as much for the scientific community as for business: and it deserves significant commitment both from the industrial players in Europe and from government at every level.

Does the Teratec science park represent a move on the part of the CEA to bring together those involved in computer simulation?
Two years ago, the CEA/DAM decided to create Teratec to share the outputs from its defense program and give the scientific and business community the benefit of its experience and computing resources. The aim was to drive forward the scientific computing industry to as high a level as possible by developing synergies between defense, industry and research around major collaborative projects.
The CEA’s current processing power of 7 teraflops will be increased to 60 teraflops with the TERA-10 supercomputer delivered by Bull. In early 2007, that will rise once again to 100 teraflops. Teratec’s partners include major businesses such as Bull, CS (Communication & Systems), Dassault Aviation, EDF, SNECMA and Turboméca; public and privately-run research centers including the Ecole Centrale de Paris, ENS Cachan, the IFP (French Petroleum Institute), the French National Telecoms Institute at Evry and the University of Versailles-St Quentin; start-up companies such as Distène and Numtech; and the local authorities that are playing host to Teratec.
With the creation by the French government of its pôles de compétitivité4, Teratec has become a focal point of the System@tic center of excellence in Ile-de-France, which is designed to ensure that the region is at the forefront of research and development in the design, development and control of complex systems. One of the first projects is the FAME2 project, led by Bull, with the aim of adapting a new generation of servers to HPC, so they can process massive volumes of information, by the start of 2008. This will enable the construction of extremely powerful supercomputers of several petaflops.
The rewards to business from the synergies between defense, industry and research are immediately clear for all to see. But this is just the start. Our warnings about how Europe has fallen behind when it comes to HPC have begun to bear fruit at the national and European levels. The implementation of large-scale computing centers — including, of course, our own — drawing on a powerful industrial infrastructure, will enable us to make phenomenal technological advances.

The CEA, a major player in technology research in France and worldwide
The CEA is a publicly owned technology research body operating in three main areas: energy, technologies for information and health, and defense, drawing on its wealth of excellence in fundamental research. As a major player in the research arena in Europe, internationally renowned for its expertise, the CEA is developing a considerable number of collaborations with international partners.

TERA-10, Europe’s most powerful supercomputer and one of the largest in the world
As part of its simulation program1 — and following an international tender which featured 278 separate criteria in its specification — the CEA chose Bull to provide its new-generation supercomputer. Bull, who delivered TERA-10 last December a few days ahead of the extremely tight deadline, was chosen for the power and scalability of its technological offerings based on standard components, its in-depth knowledge of Open Source and its expertise in high-performance computing (HPC) and complex IT infrastructures. TERA-10 consists of a cluster of 602 Bull NovaScale servers, of which 544 are dedicated to data computing. With nearly 9,000 Intel® Itanium® 2 processors, this giant of the IT world provides computing capacity in excess of 50 teraflops and 30 terabytes of core memory.

1 The challenge for the simulation program run by the Military Applications Directorate (DAM) at the CEA, is to guarantee the robustness, reliability and performance of deterrent weapons
2 Téraflop: one thousand billion operations per second (1012)
3 Pétaflop: one million billion operations per second (1015)
4 “Pôles de compétitivité” are centers of excellence bringing together public and private-sector research bodies in a given geographic location in a partnership designed to encourage synergies around shared projects of an innovative nature.

See also: Daniel Verwaerde testimony video, April 2006
at Cannes International Seminar "IT architectures: the new European dynamic" >>

 

Open Source, a pragmatic choice
Interview with Janick Taillandier, Information Systems & Telecommunications Director of RATP (the Paris urban transport authority)
In the transport sector, as in other areas of public services, the current trend is towards increased competition in the marketplace. Does this new environment have an impact on RATP’s information systems?
RATP is going through profound changes, just as fast as the landscape around us. Firstly, we have to satisfy the new requirements imposed by STIF, the regional public transport authority, responsible for Paris, the Ile-deFrance and the surrounding region. Under the authority of the President of the Regional Council, STIF is responsible for co-ordinating the business activities of RATP, SNCF and the 90 or so operators within the ‘Optile’ network and defines the general operating conditions for public transport in the Ile-de-France. Secondly, an European regulation governing public transport passenger services states that they will need to be opened up to competition.

So we are preparing ourselves to become a company that can compete effectively at the European level: ready to face the competition and start establishing ourselves in other French regions and European cities. Innovation will be the main driver for our ongoing development. Technology will enable our people and business activities to evolve: the main business driver from now on will be more about servicing our relationships with customers. And of course what we expect from our information system is that it will be an engine of this transformation: not only enabling us to provide new services, but also helping us enhance existing ones (for example, video surveillance).

You have chosen Open Source for many of your applications? Why is this?
Because it works! In 1995, we launched our first Internet site built using Open Source components, because we were working with a tight budget; it worked well that year, coping with peaks of more than 100,000 hits a day. Using the same technology, we now handle 1,500 hits a second!
Open Source software is often simpler than commercial ones that are enriched with sophisticated functionality which we don’t necessarily need. This means they are more easily controllable. At RATP, we work within relatively long timeframes, and that’s why we need a stable portfolio of software capable of evolving in line with our needs, not those of software vendors trying meet their profit target. Using Open Source components, we are far more the masters of our own IT architectures and their cycles of evolution.
I would just add that Linux is running on a large number of servers that are relatively inexpensive. Moving from Unix to Linux is relatively simple for our developers, and so our investment in people and skills is preserved. This also enables us to rationalize our heterogeneous range of servers.
Another decisive factor: a certain number of technologies no longer represent a significant cost to us, and this is vitally important to us as we seek to gear up our customer service policies.

What is your current implementation strategy?
We are installing Linux on mid-range servers, including on our mission-critical systems. We will not be using it for the time being on PCs or high-end systems.
Since the start of 2000, we have developed core business and technical applications using Open Source components, such as real-time passenger information systems on station platforms, front-office ticket sales and income management, as well as the central technical control system. Maintenance support tools for buses and trams are under development. We never make radical changes all at once, but prefer to capitalize on our experience and progress step by step towards installing real-time systems (for example, kiosks) and applications handling very large volumes of data.
Information systems are key drivers for improving performance and efficiency in any organization, because they are at the heart of its operation. For a multitude of reasons, Open Source software provides effective and inexpensive tools that enable us to control the development of our systems with complete independence. Finally, the young developers we are currently hiring all know Linux and Open Source: and that’s an important point. Our strategy is very pragmatic.

Created in 1949, RATP is a public services organization providing nearly 80% of public transport in the Ile-de-France region.
It manages four networks: buses, underground trains (the Metro), regional trains (the ‘RER’) and trams. RATP has a turnover of €3.4 billion and employs more than 44,000 people, transporting nine million passengers every day, of which 4.7 million travel on the Metro.
Spread across 12 sites throughout the Ile-de-France, RATP’s information system features some 500 applications, 300 servers (running under AIX, HP-UX and Solaris), a number of Oracle databases and a park of around 15,000 PCs. It consists on the one hand of the corporate systems handling financial applications (accounts, human resources, purchasing, sales & legal services, maintenance, business intelligence), and on the other hand, the ‘passenger’ systems running services to customers, such as ticket sales, CRM, on-board services, passenger information and security (people, spaces and assets). Open Source software is gradually being used to meet more and more of the requirements for core business- applications.
Bull is one of RATP’s key partners when it comes to technical infrastructures, particularly via the referencing of Unix servers, storage/SAN infrastructures and JOnAS application servers.

See also: Janick Taillandier testimony video, April 2006
at Cannes International Seminar "IT architectures: the new European dynamic" >>

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