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N°26  |  May   2008
Hot topics
GENCI together with the CEA order a Bull NovaScale supercomputer to speed up innovation and fundamental research
  • The new supercomputer is designed around a hybrid architecture, to respond to the needs of both production and research applications

  • It takes the available power at the scientific computing complex in Bruyères le Châtel (in the Île de France region) to more than 300 Teraflops, thus making it Europe ’s leading civil computing facility.

GENCI ( Grand Equipement National de Calcul Intensif ) – the French national High-Performance Computing organization – together with the CEA ( Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique ) – the French Atomic Energy Authority – have placed an order for a Bull NovaScale ® supercomputer, to speed up the process of innovation and fundamental research. The new computer will be used by the research community in France in key areas such as climatology and sustainable development, space and aeronautical research, energy, and life and materials sciences.

Designed and developed by Bull, the supercomputer features a hybrid architecture, enabling it to deliver both a great deal of power for production tasks and to act as a research platform into a new form of architecture, which is based around the use of so-called GPU processors (designed primarily for computer games and graphics applications) for scientific computing. This, the first such hybrid machine in Europe , is the result of R&D work carried out by Bull, experts from the French Atomic Energy Authority’s Directorate of Military Affairs (CEA/DAM) and their partners in the SYSTEM@TIC Paris-Region competitiveness cluster.

With the new supercomputer, the overall power available at the scientific computing complex in Bruyères le Châtel (to the south of Paris in the Île de France region) will be in excess of 300 Teraflops, making this the leading site in Europe in the area of civil computing.

An architecture combining Linux and Open Source software

The architecture for the new system designed by Bull combines both specialist and ‘generalist’ servers in a very large-scale cluster. The aim of this is to effectively meet the needs of both production and research, while at the same time offering the ease of use of a single system. Bull Advanced Server – the suite of software provided by Bull to be used by the system engineers – draws very heavily on the Open Source world, guaranteeing that it is open and accessible to the various different user communities, in contrast to proprietary systems.

The new Bull NovaScale supercomputer consists of a cluster of 1,068 8-core ‘generalist’ computing nodes (Intel ® processors), delivering some 103 Teraflops of power, and 48 specialist 512-core GPU nodes, providing additional theoretical power of up to 192 Teraflops.

The applications involved, whether they run on the generalist or GPU processors, will have access to 25 TB of memory. They will also be connected – via the Lustre ® Open Source file system – to the entire data storage capacity of the CCRT (the Center for Research and Technology computing), which extends to one petabyte of disk space.

The supercomputer is due to go into service towards the beginning of 2009.

This order is absolutely in line with our strategy to finance and implement the computing infrastructures needed to assist the development of scientific research. It is a testament to the importance that the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research places on High-Performance Computing as an essential technology for accelerating innovation and strengthening competitiveness ,” confirmed Catherine Rivière, President of GENCI.

"Acquiring a Bull supercomputer follows on from the demand from our users for access to a great deal of computing power for their research applications,” explained Christophe Béhar, President of CEA/DAM, Île de France. “ By offering a unique, but hybrid, machine, it seemed to us that Bull had come up with the perfect answer to deal with the diverse nature of our applications, while at the same time guaranteeing that we had an open infrastructure, rather than a proprietary one, at a very competitive cost.”

"We are particularly proud to have been chosen to supply this supercomputer by GENCI, which brings together the CEA (the French Atomic Energy Authority), the CNRS (the national center for scientific research) and the French universities,” added Philippe Miltin , Vice-President of Bull’s Products and Systems Division. “ It confirms that our strategy in HPC is the right one: to develop solutions that are based on the very best industry standards to ensure the right combination of performance, openness and competitiveness. It is this strategy that has enabled Bull to reach its current position in under four years, with over 100 HPC customers in 15 countries across three continents.”


GENCI , Grand Equipement National de Calcul Intensif , is a legal entity taking the form of a société civile (civil company) under French law, owned 50 % by the French State represented by the Ministry for Higher Education and Research, 20 % by the CEA, 20 % by the CNRS and 10 % by the universities.

Created in January 2007, GENCI has the following mission:

  • To promote the use of modeling, simulation and High-Performance Computing (HPC) in fundamental and industrial research
  • To promote the organization of European HPC and participate to its actions
  • To set in place and co-ordinate the major computer hardware for the French computer centers for civil research, by providing for their financing and assuming their ownership
  • To perform all research required for developing and optimizing the utilization of computing hardware
  • To open up the hardware it owns to all interested scientific communities, academic or industrial, national, European or international.

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About the CEA

The French nuclear energy authority, or Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique (CEA) is a major player in research, development and innovation, and a contributor to three key sectors: energy, information technology and healthcare, and defense and security; building on its excellence in fundamental research.

With 15,000 researchers and staff, the CEA is an important resource for the public sector, offering a wealth of expertise and consultancy services. A driving force for industrial innovation, the CEA has developed a number of partnerships with French and European businesses.

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