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European Supercomputer Programme in next Horizon 2020 period programme to also focus on HPC access for SMEs

At ISC 2015 in Frankfurt, Germany, we had the opportunity to talk with Augusto Burgueno-Arjona from the European Commission, Department of e-Infrastructures, including European Supercomputer Service Programme, who also delivered the welcome address at the Conference stating that "HPC is high in the European political agenda as it is recognised as an essential technology to respond to the growing needs of our modern societies, transforming societal challenges into business opportunities, and bringing growth and jobs to the European economy". Augusto Burgueno-Arjona also stressed that "there are important upcoming steps, such as the large-scale platform integration of the technology building blocks and the coordinated acquisition at EU level of world-class systems".

What is the role of HPC in Europe and Europe's role in the world?

Augusto Burgueno-Arjona: HPC has been a priority for Europe since a few years already. As you know, we have a European HPC strategy which the European Commission is supporting, based on three basic pillars: technology development towards exascale; building capacity and access to HPC systems; and the involvement of user communities so that they can really benefit from all the possibilities that HPC offers. Part of what I said in my welcome address is that we have achieved a lot so far. There are very successful projects. Some of them even are in the third generation of funding. Now, it is time to start thinking about how to take stock, how to integrate all these technologies in new prototypes, in new demonstrators. This is basically what we are looking at now in the preparation for the next steps.

What are the next steps? Will you be focusing on research or also on industry?

Augusto Burgueno-Arjona: In addition to the demonstrators that I just mentioned, there are two other additional elements. One is the coordination of procurement policies in the member states. We really believe that coordination will be needed given the high cost of these computers and the short life cycles. We have already sensed that some member states would be willing at least to explore that possibility. The other element which is as important, if not more important, is facilitating access to HPC resources for SMEs and other innovative actors. This is in the context of the Digital Single Market strategy that has just been adopted by the European Commission.

The basic objective and the key headings are the digital access of industry which means to facilitate, no matter which sector we are talking about, that companies fully exploit all the possibilities of ICT - and this includes of course HPC technologies. It also involves the democratization, if you want, of access to HPC because our understanding is that there are a number of industries, and a number of actors within those industries, that have understood and have developed the mechanisms to really make use of HPC technologies. There is a huge amount of companies, some of them which are also providers of services and products to these big players that today don't have access. So we really have to explore mechanisms, so that HPC technologies are made accessible and available also to minor players or important players but without the financial muscle to really invest in HPC technologies.

There is already a longer history of smaller scale, you could say, and assisting SMEs with HPC technologies, including the UberCloud which in fact also is coming from Europe, and the Fortissimo and CloudSME projects. So, what you want to do is to bring this to a bigger scale?

Augusto Burgueno-Arjona: In the next programme period in 2016-2017 we are going to try to experiment with a cooperation model which will also involve innovation clusters, as we call them, regional clusters that have a mission to develop their local economies by fostering the development of new SMEs, by making resources available to them. What we want to explore is whether bringing together those local entities which mission is to help SMEs in bringing them together with infrastructure operators like HPC providers, like PRACE, for example, could facilitate their access because today the mechanisms that we have, are only European in the sense that if you are a local SME and you want to use a PRACE machine, you have to know that PRACE exists and you have to know that they have a programme called SHAPE for which you have to apply. We believe that SMEs naturally are known by their local organisations and those are better placed to help. So that is something that we are going to prototype in the next programme period.

Then, we will also be exploring options to increase capacity, work mechanisms of coordinating local and national budgets that could be used so that regions that are specifically specialized in certain areas, could involve, for example, a structural funds for the development and for the deployment of HPC capacity in a way that could not only be beneficial for their local companies but also at the European level if this is in a coordinated manner. For that, we are also relying on political initiatives like the Juncker plan, for example, which is a mechanism to facilitate funding and loans to companies which really has the potential to create synergies between all the funding mechanisms like Horizon 2020 and structural funds, for example.

Juncker is the president of the European Commission. What is his plan about?

Augusto Burgueno-Arjona: The Juncker plan is a mechanism to facilitate the access to the European Investment Bank (EIB) loans. So, basically, the European Commission, together with the European Investment Bank, have created the guarantee that enables the European Investment Bank to take higher risk projects. So, one could envisage, for example, a project to deploy HPC capacity in a few member states with the participation of private partners like telco providers or even users, like financial companies or energy companies. At the same time, the funding of these private entities that will provide for the deployment of this infrastructure could be complemented with public funding, coming from other sources like, as I said, the structural funds or Horizon 2020.

Thank you very much.