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Extreme computing: technological innovation and European leadership


Bull R&D at the heart of European projects and competitiveness clusters  

Technological innovation? It’s the very foundation of Bull’s existence, from the world’s first mainframes in the 1960s, to the invention of microprocessor boards in 1979, to globull™, the world’s most secure mobility platform launched in 2008 and now bullx, a new-generation of ultra-dense, ultra-modular supercomputers, designed with particular care.
All this goes hand in hand with Bull’s proven experience of worldwide collaborations with its technology partners (through its R&D centers in Europe, America and Asia), as well as with Open Source Communities, major industrial companies, prestigious research laboratories, and innovative small-to-medium sized enterprises as part of numerous European research programs and competitiveness clusters.     

Bull Direct interviewed three research directors, who talk about the high-level cooperative research projects they are involved in. Each illustrates just how high performance computing is making inroads in every sector of the economy, for businesses of different sizes.  

JC Bourhis

The HiPiP (High Performance Imaging Processing) project, with Jean-Claude Bourhis

Launched in October 2008, this ITEA2 European Union project brings together partners involved in the French System@tic competitiveness cluster: Bull, the French Atomic Energy Authority (the CEA), IMSTAR and DOSISOFT, and the Dutch cluster Point-One: Philips Healthcare, Technolution and FEI, who have been chosen for their expertise in high-performance image processing in the field of bio-medical imagery. 

Coordinated in France by Bull, the project draws on High-Performance Computing (HPC) technologies to support advances in medical image processing. The objective? To show the advantages these technologies offer when it comes to establishing a reliable diagnosis, applying radiotherapy or monitoring a treatment in real time, and even analyzing biopsy tissue samples at cellular level.  

The potential is huge, and there are numerous possible applications. What they all have in common is the need for increasingly precise 4D images (three spatial dimensions, plus time) for the different types of therapy used (X-rays, PETX, TEP1, IRM2, TDM3). Because the imagery is so much more precise, a great deal more data has to be processed in the short time that the patient is actually present during a consultation or examination. This is one reason why Bull has suggested standard multi-core systems packaged in different configurations (‘one box’, server, cluster) and helps partners to set up their applications in parallel so they can benefit to the maximum from the inherent power of their configuration.

Here are a few examples of possible applications, which illustrate the relevance of these technologies:

projet HipIp

The project will deliver demonstrators for all types of treatment (X-rays, MRI, PET and CT-SCANs4 and cellular imagery) and an innovative stand-alone workstation for virtual simulation in radiotherapy.  
On a technical level, the project is particularly interesting in its use of application parallelization techniques and real-time applications. 

3D imaging of a brain's fiber networks with MRI


JM Morel

The EXPAMTION project with Jean-Marc Morel

EXPAMTION is all about trialing a shared simulation infrastructure to serve everyone involved in the mechanical and electronics engineering (mechatronics) design cycle. Accredited by two French competitiveness clusters, MOV’EO and SYSTEM@TIC, the project was launched in December 2008 as part of MOV’EO’s DAS6 mechatronics project.

The DAS program is designed to boost the competitiveness of automotive parts manufacturers by implementing a collaborative design workshop bringing together professionals from the whole range of electronic and mechanical engineering disciplines.

The challenge for EXPAMTION is to speed up the development of innovative, environmentally-friendly products using high-performance computing resources that are shared in a totally secure way, ensuring that everyone involved has a practical way to work on developments cooperatively without any risk to their intellectual property. 

Alongside Bull – as the supplier of the highly secure cooperative HPC environment –EXPAMTION brings together parts manufacturers such as VALEO Systèmes Thermiques and MDP (a French SME), specialists in simulation applications such as ALTAIR Engineering, CADLM, INTES and SIMPOE, and the research institutes at CETIM7, the University of Versailles-St Quentin, and Compiègne Technology University. By bringing together all the required skills (mechanical and thermal scoping, electromagnetic/computational (CEM) compatibility, electronics, routing, etc.) across the whole design cycle, the workbench being developed and tested as part of this project will allow complex, ‘greener’ products to be developed and optimized. 

All those involved in the supply chain will test out new collaborative design methods, based on highly intensive use of multi-disciplinary simulation to develop products that, for example, can cut CO2 emissions by between 2% and 6% by optimizing weight-distribution of structures, heat-exchange and cooling systems, and electronically-controlled ventilation. 


This project will also address the issue of training, especially for SMEs in the sector, to ensure widespread uptake of the simulation tools, as well as defining a ‘business model’ for a secure collaborative simulation tool that can be shared between different industrial and academic players. The project also aims to promote the methodology and resources needed to develop this kind of cooperative venture in other sectors with similar supply chain issues (such as the aeronautical, mechanical and chemical industries).     
On a technical level, the project will also enable Bull to fine-tune its HPC solutions for mechatronics, optimize the modeling and simulation applications involved for its own infrastructures, and further enhance its security solutions, particularly the encryption speed for both stored data and data transmitted via networks.     

JM Morel

The TSAR (Tera-Scale ARchitecture) project with Huy-Nam Nguyen

Accredited at the end of January 2008 by CATRENE – the European micro-electronics research program – TSAR is a project focused on designing the multi-core processor architectures of the future, aimed at the massively-parallel computing market.


Bull is the leader of this project, which also involves: the Thales group and the LIP6 laboratory of the Pierre & Marie Curie University on the French side; ACE, Compaan, Liacs, NXP Semiconductors, Philips Healthcare, Tu Delft on the Dutch side; and the FZI8 IT research center based at Karlsruhe in Germany.

TSAR is a project of critical importance for the years to come because today’s industry-standard chips are reaching their technological limits in terms of performance and energy consumption. Therefore, massively-parallel architectures are the only real way forward if we are to deliver the power needed by the latest computer simulation and HPC applications. 

The project – which involves pioneers in chip-based multi-processor networks (NXP Semiconductors, the Pierre & Marie Curie University/LIP6) – has three main aims:

On a technical level, effectively managing these card-based multi-processor architectures (MPSoC9 ) and integrating them into HPC solutions is vitally important for Bull, with its ambition to be market leader in computer simulation in Europe.  


HPC – Bull’s involvement in European research programs and competitiveness clusters  

Since they were first established, Bull has been heavily involved in a number of European EUREKA research programs, including:

CatreneCATRENE (Cluster for Application and Technology Research in Europe on NanoElectronics), is the successor to the MEDEA+ program (a pan-European advanced cooperative R&D program in microelectronics), whose founder members include: Alcatel-Lucent, ASM International, ASML, Bull, Carl Zeiss, EADS, Infineon Technologies, NXP Semiconductors, Robert Bosch, STMicroelectronics and Thomson.

ITEA 2ITEA2 (Information Technology for European Advancement), which is also a pan-European R&D program in Software-intensive Software & Services (SiS). The founder members of the project include: Airbus, Alcatel-Lucent, Barco, Bosch, Bull, Daimler, the European Federation of High Tech SMEs, Italtel, Nokia, Philips, Siemens, Telefonica, Telvent, Thales and Thomson. In HPC, Bull has established the ParMA (Parallel Programming for Multi-core Architectures) consortium with its partners, which aims to develop innovative, flexible and open technologies that fully capitalize on multi-core architectures. 

Bull is also actively involved in several competitiveness clusters in France and with its partners in the Netherlands, most notably:

SystematicSYSTEM@TIC is a global competitiveness cluster focusing on the design, manufacture and control of complex systems. The POPS project brings together Bull and numerous partners from industry and research in the area of new-generation, Petaflops-capacity servers especially suited to HPC and processing the kinds of rich and complex databases used by major businesses such as telecoms operators.   

MinalogicMINALOGIC. This global competitiveness cluster based in Grenoble, France, develops intelligent miniaturized solutions for industry. It is based on a totally unique and unprecedented combination of micro-nanotechnologies and embedded software intelligence. The MULTIVAL (Validation of Multiprocessor Multithreaded Architectures) project brings together ST Microelectronics, Bull, CEA/LETI (one of the main European centers for applied research in electronics and part of the French Atomic Energy Commission), and INRIA (the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automated Control) and works on the formal modeling, functional verification and evaluation of the performance of high-added value hardware architectures featuring high levels of asynchronous parallelization.  

Cap digitalCAP DIGITAL is the competitiveness cluster for digital content based in the Ile-de-France (Paris) region. The MEDI@TIC project – which involves Alcatel-Lucent, Bull, CEA-LIST, Expway, INT-ARTEMIS, LBA (VODEO.TV), NewPhenix, Radio-France, SFR, Supelec and Vecsys – is developing a solution for real-time, interactive and personalized enrichment of multimedia content, received through any broadcast channel, so users can find out more information if they are interested. For example, a viewer watching a televised debate, documentary or sporting event will have access to extra personalized information about the event interactively via his or her television screen, mobile phone or computer. 

MoveoMOV’EO is a French competitiveness cluster that also works internationally to design and develop automotive vehicles and other means of transport that are safer and more respectful of people and the environment

Point OnePOINT-ONE is a Dutch high-tech innovation program focused on nano-electronics, embedded systems and mechatronics, which simultaneously combines mechanical engineering, electronics, automation and micro-computing techniques to create new, more powerful products and machines. 

1 PET: Positron Emission Therapy
2 MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imagery
3 TDM: Tomodensitometry
4 CT-SCAN: Computed Tomography SCAN
5 EXPAMTION: Expérimentation d’une infrastructure de simulation Partagée par tous les Acteurs de la chaine Mécatronique de conception ortrialing a shared simulation infrastructure to support everyone involved in the mechatronics design cycle
6 The aim of the DAS (Domaine d’Activités Stratégiques or Strategic Areas of Activity) mechatronics project is to combine electronic and mechanical engineering techniques to make the drive-train and control systems on vehicles simpler, more compact and more reliable, while reducing both energy consumption and airborne emissions.
7 CETIM: Centre Technique des Industries Mécaniques or the Mechanical Industries Technical Center
8 FZI: Forschungszentrum Informatik
9 MPSoC: Multiprocessor System-on-Chip