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Airbus needs HPC capacity to stay competitive

The ETP4HPC Workshop at ISC'17 in Frankfurt, Germany provided us with an excellent occasion to interview Marc Morere who is in charge of the strategy of the scientific computing centre at Airbus for 14 years now. HPC is a topic where Marc Morere has been focusing on for a very long time. Airbus needs HPC to design aircraft and for the optimization of the machines. There are different parts involved: the aerodynamic part to auto-optimize the conception of the carburator and fuel during the flight; the acoustic part; the certification of the aircraft for the airport; the structural part of the aircraft to measure the stress; and the embedded systems in the aircraft.

Airbus has some in-house design development but this is used less and less. There is a collaboration with development research centres in Germany and France, mainly for CFD with a representation of 70 percent. It is very costly to develop and maintain a development code.

Airbus is member of ETP4HPC to have a better implementation of the code on the future machines. Airbus does not want an exascale machine at this moment because the code is not scaling. In addition, the cost of an exascale machine is so high that one needs to have a very good business case to justify the purchase of an exascale machine. However, Airbus needs exascale technology and capacity. For Airbus, it is interesting to have a lot of petascale machines to deliver exascale power in total. Airbus now has a petascale machine that is used more for capacity than capability. The main problem is to have the code scaling. Therefore, it is interesting for Airbus to work with ETP4HPC in order to have a machine that is adapted to the code. For this, Airbus is working with many research centres around Europe. Within PRACE and ETP4HPC there are a lot of academic and research centres. Marc Morere sees the future as a collaboration between the research centres and Airbus with regard to the code and its working on the machine. That is clearly the target.

So, for Airbus, exascale machines are not so much about peak performance but about capacity. The big challenge now is about data moving. There are a lot of data being generated concerning flight tests, for example. That data needs to be stored somewhere. It is very difficult to move the data to the computing machine. Airbus has a need for a lot of area to store the data, plus a lot of capacity for data processing. Airbus has to have the ability to change the processing from HPC to Big Data, deep learning and machine learning. Airbus needs a reconfigurable machine with a software stack on top for all the future challenges that Airbus has to solve. And this future is already ongoing, Marc Morere insisted.

Airbus is working with a lot of 10- to 20-petascale machines. There is a lot of capacity around. Airbus has the possibility to size and configure the machines with the code and with the things Airbus wants to do. For Airbus, this is the big research challenge.

We cited a lot of European research and industrial HPC initiatives that are going on such as ETP4HPC, IPCEI, and EuroHPC and wanted to know whether these are interesting for Airbus.

Marc Morere confirmed that all these European initiatives are of interest to the company. Airbus is a real European company and is keen to participate in a huge collaboration within Europe in order to maintain its competitiveness towards China, Russia and the United States. Airbus now has only one concurrent which is Boeing, but China, Russia and Canada are coming very fast on the market. Airbus needs to find new capacity and all European HPC initiatives are welcome to help contribute to this. China has a big programme in place to go to exascale. It is a Chinese supercomputer that has the number one rank in the TOP500. China is in advance so in Europe, one has to participate to the race, not to conquer the first position, but to be in the race.

Therefore, Airbus appreciates that the European Commission has so many things going on in the HPC area. The launch of new projects is very important. Airbus wants to participate and be included in this challenge.