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FocusCoE to support HPC Centres of Excellence for outreach to the broader European HPC community

We had the opportunity to interview Guy Lonsdale. CEO of Scapos, an SME in Germany. Scapos is involved in a number of HPC projects. Scapos is also the coordinator of the project called "Concerted action for the European HPC CoEs", also known as FocusCoE. CoEs are Centres of Excellence. FocusCoE is a Coordination and Support Action that started end last year. The focus of FocusCoE is on the support for the set of European HPC Centres of Excellence. The project actually has activities to support these centres in achieving the impact within the HPC ecosystem.

Can you tell what a Centre of Excellence is?

Guy Lonsdale: A Centre of Excellence is a community activity to develop and support for application codes for specific communities. The concentration of the more recently launched version of the CoEs is on making sure that the application codes that are important for these communities are able to be deployed effectively on exascale systems. It is really the push for exascale applications.

Can you give a few examples?

Guy Lonsdale: There was a prior set of CoEs, launched approximately over three years back. Quite a number of them have been extended. So, there is a second instantiation of those. We have got CoEs looking at computational biomedicine (CompBiomed), a number addressing various application fields relying on molecular and/or quantum mechanics simulations,including chemistry and materials design and in the bio-area applications like drug-design (BioExcel, E-CAM, MAX). Then, we have got EXCELLERAT looking at engineering, EoCoE looking at a range of energy applications; climate and weather modelling with the ESiWACE CoE; and Earth Sciences/geophysics modelling in ChEESE. The HiDALGO CoE looks at simulation and analytics applications for addressing global challenges, such as migration, pollution and social networks.

We also have one CoE that is crosscutting. This does not involve an application area but it involves activities to look at achieving optimal performance of parallel systems, which is called POP and which is a now in its second instantiation.

There is a range of key application areas for high performance computing. The purpose of FocusCoE is to make sure that the topic of HPC applications and the impact these applications have is taking up in the ecosystem. Obviously, within EuroHPC, we have activities developing the research infrastructure and developing technologies for HPC. The CoEs complement that by making sure they have the applications, the delivery and the results for science and industry.

There will also be another types of activities, apart from the CoEs, to do more middleware type of things in EuroHPC?

Guy Lonsdale: As far as I am aware, there are going to be projects developing middleware, developing things like programming environments as well as the hardware technology such as computing and storage technologies. Indeed, there are such projects looking at middleware. There may be some of the CoE specific activities for the middleware that they need. For example in the climate and weather modelling, they have got coupled systems for the ocean atmosphere. They have their own middleware for specific applications. They are looking at how to take that sort of middleware over into the exascale area.

The CoEs may indeed have their own middleware. There are others like the FET HPC projects that may be developing generic middleware for programming environments.

Each of these CoEs is embedded into their own application community?

Guy Lonsdale: Indeed. The typical partners are HPC centres but also the application developers and the end users. Each of these CoEs involves all the necessary actors in their community.

There were some other developments in the recent past that are still ongoing and that also wanted to develop HPC applications like the Fortissimo project which you certainly are aware of?

Guy Lonsdale: Right, as you know, I was involved in the Fortissimo and Fortissimo II projects. That was slightly different actually because what we were looking at was less the development of applications but more the use of application software to deliver the solution for solving business problems to SMEs. There was a real focus on making use of HPC resources to solve problems that the SMEs have. That was typically a long way away from exascale. It was more like taking SMEs that hadn't been using HPC before and finding out what suited their problems and needs. We looked at HPC as anything from a slow number of nodes on a system to a larger number. So we have some of the aerodynamics of CFD applications running on already thousands of cores but we were also there to help those that are using maybe just hundred cores. It was not exascale. Fortissimo was very pragmatic and its experiments always started by asking: what's needed to solve the business problems for manufacturing SMEs?

That topic of how do we provide support for SMEs will be continued in the new HPC programme, so getting access to SMEs in engineering or broader than just manufacturing to the resources to HPC. My personal expectation is that this would not be exascale in the first instance. It would be again a pragmatic use of HPC resources.

But just being part of the whole ecosystem?

Guy Lonsdale: Exactly. That is part of bringing HPC benefits that we know in science to industry or to the broader industry. We know that there are industries that make use of HPC heavily but there are lots of industries, and SMEs in particular, that do not.

What will be the specific activities with the FocusCoE?

Guy Lonsdale: We are there just to support. We have a number of areas. One of them is to create a General Assembly for the CoEs to give them a platform to interact and define the collaborative strategies, and also to define how they as a set of organisations or projects, can better interact with for example EuroHPC. That is a sort of organisational, strategic activity. Then, we have other activities that are more specific. The first is to help them with industrial outreach, to try and go out to industry and let them know about the CoEs and to promote the competences and services the CoEs have, explaining what is there, giving feedback to the CoEs about what industry needs, taking a sectorial approach. It is not just representing one CoE but a bunch of them.

A very important topic is training. There are a lot of training activities going on such as the PRACE activities. They provide a lot of training and the CoEs as well. What we want to do in FocusCoE is help make sure that everyone knows about the training that is being provided and made available, and is aware of this. The customers can actually benefit from this awareness of training activities from the CoEs and also being linked into the PRACE offerings. In that context, there will be a particular event that we are organizing because we will be looking at the cross-community, and actually the whole ecosystem in a comprehensive stakeholder workshop for education and training for HPC. This is linked to the need to understand what are the general training and education needs for the whole ecosystem by bringing the stakeholders together to discuss what their needs are and providing that as a White Paper to the European Commission. That is a special part of the training activities.

Usually projects have dissemination activities. We have something called promoting the "CoE branding". We are actually there not to promote our project but to promote the CoEs, helping them to make outreach to the broader community and explain what they are doing.

FocusCoE started in December 2018, as did a lot of the second wave of the newly launched projects.