Human Brain Project: Pilot Systems for Interactive Supercomputer Launched

The Jülich Supercomputing Centre has begun operation of two new pilot systems for an interactive supercomputer. The systems – JULIA, created by Cray, and JURON from IBM and NVIDIA – are specifically designed for applications in the neurosciences. The installation and test phase are part of a special procurement for the European Human Brain Project.

The two new pilot systems for an interactive supercomputer, which are installed at Jülich Supercomputing Centre: JULIA, created by Cray, and JURON from IBM and NVIDIA. The central racks represent the storage system both pilot systems can access. Both systems are specifically designed for applications in the neurosciences. The installation and test phase are part of a special procurement for the European Human Brain Project. Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich

The development of an interactive supercomputer for the Human Brain Project (HBP) is making progress. Two consortia have installed their respective proposed solutions at the Jülich Supercomputing Centre (JSC), where Jülich scientists and their colleagues from the HBP will now test how powerful the two systems are and how well they fulfil the desired functions. For this purpose, they are using simulation software such as NEST, which is being developed by Jülich scientists headed by Prof. Markus Diesmann from the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-6), together with neuroscientists from all over the world. NEST makes it possible to simulate neuronal networks in the brain. It is planned that in the future the resulting data can be directly analysed and compared to experimental data using the novel supercomputers. In order to achieve this, an international team of scientists headed by Prof. Sonja Grün (INM-6), together with JSC’s Simulation Laboratory Neuroscience, are further developing the “Elephant” software. Methods for data and image analysis developed by Jülich researchers headed by Prof. Katrin Amunts from the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-1) are also employed. Among other aspects, three-dimensional models of the human brain such as the BigBrain project are to be realized, as well as maps recording the connections between different regions of the brain.

Being able to interactively operate supercomputers for such applications is viewed as a key element for future neuroscience. So far, supercomputers work on tasks largely autonomously. The aim for the future is for scientists to be able to interact with their jobs and to control them interactively. The special challenge is that this requires data to be rapidly analysed and visualized in parallel to the main application. This means that the computers of the future must handle even more data than the enormous amounts that already arise today.

For their concepts, the two consortia are making use of fast computing technologies, not all of which are yet commercially available. The compute nodes communicate via fast network technologies of the latest generation. A unique selling point is the integration of new, non-volatile memory technologies which will, in the future, permit the realization of much larger memory capacities. Both consortia have also integrated graphics processing units (GPU) for visualization purposes.

JULIA and JURON comprise two racks each. For JURON (the name is derived from JUelich and NeuRON), IBM and NVIDIA make use of completely novel Tesla GPUs of the Pascal generation, which are capable of particularly fast communication with each other and with IBM‘s POWER8 processor on the basis of the NVLink technology. Cray introduced new processor and network technology from Intel in the JULIA supercomputer, whose name is derived from JUelich and gLIA, a type of cell in the nervous system. In order to offer more memory in the system, special Cray DataWarp nodes were integrated, which provide a lot of non-volatile memory. The results of both approaches will be reviewed in early 2017.

Pre-Commercial Procurement (PCP)

Both systems serve to evaluate research and development work as part of Pre-Commercial Procurement (PCP). The Human Brain Project chose this special type of procurement, funded by the European Commission, in order to find suitable technology solutions for future high-performance computers designed specifically for neuroscience. The objective is a computer with a peak performance of initially 50 petaflop/s and a memory capacity of 20 petabytes, with which large-scale brain simulations can be interactively visualized and controlled. The procurement process began in April 2014 and is planned to be concluded in 2017. Its aim is to support the development of technologies to be integrated in future products. Forschungszentrum Jülich hopes that in this way, suitable solutions for the development of the HBP High Performance Analytics & Computing Platform will become available on the market.