Journey to the bowels of ‘Finis Terrae III’, the other super brain of Spain | Technology
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Blue neon signs and a penetrating buzz that can only be extinguished with insulating helmets announce the arrival at the Finis Terrae III, the largest supercomputer in Galicia, second in Spain, hidden in a discreet building on the South Campus of the University of Santiago de Compostela. In a space next to the dark room that houses this gigantic brain with a computing power of 4.36 petaflops — made up of 714 processors with a total of 22,848 cores and 157 GPU mathematical accelerators in continuous dialogue through an infiniband HDR 100 network — its predecessor survives in service in the history of the Galician Supercomputing Center (CESGA).
Although the vast majority of users already work with the third version of the Galician superbrain, awarded in 2021 to the firm Atos, the Finis Terrae II (inaugurated in 2015 to relieve FinisTerrae I, 2007) still provides services to different institutions, companies or research teams that have not yet migrated. Among an insultingly young workforce, the oldest worker in the house – who compensates upwards for the average age of engineers, mathematicians and physicists in their twenties – still remembers the insulation works in which the power line was covered “with lead” of megawatt and a half that runs under the ground. The veteran Miguel Arce is also the only one who was present when the CESGA was inaugurated by Manuel Fraga in May 1993, thus becoming the first Spanish supercomputing center. At the end of last September, and almost 30 years later, it was another president of the same party in the Xunta, Alfonso Rueda, who visited and inaugurated the new Galician supercomputer.
All the figures and all the milestones of the first Finis Terrae, named like that, among other things, because of the 85 kilometers that its wiring measured – the distance between Compostela and Fisterra, the end of the world for the Romans – and the supercomputer that came later have been already powdered. The third supercomputer multiplies the capacity of the previous version by 12 and can solve 4,360 billion mathematical operations per second. It has a 5PB disk storage system and a 20PB tape library, as well as a 30-qbit quantum computing simulator that is the first of its kind in Spain. Although the authorities have just officially cut the ribbon (with the presence of the Vice President for Scientific and Technical Research of the Higher Council for Scientific Research, José María Martell), in reality the Finis Terrae III It has been serving Galician scientists, CSIC researchers and a long list of projects from all over Europe for months. It is already an essential tool for missions as diverse as that of genomic research centers, the continuous updating of weather forecasts or the monitoring of the successive variants of Sars-CoV-2 that put the planet on edge.
The Galician team is part of the set of infrastructures that make up the Singular Technical Scientific Facility (ICTS) of the Spanish Supercomputing Network (RES), woven by 14 centers throughout the country. Ahead of the Finis Terrae and always in the lead, is the supercomputer Mare Nostrum, of the BSC (Barcelona Supercomputing Center). The processors of Mare Nostrum 4 (2017) can generate a maximum power of 11.15 petaflops (the unit of measurement for supercomputers), which means that it can perform more than 11,000 trillion operations per second, 10 times more than its previous version, the Mare Nostrum 3 Now, as happened in the case of the Compostela supercomputer, Atos is the company in charge of making the project of the Mare Nostrum 5, which will have a maximum throughput of 314 PFlops (or put another way, it will do 314 trillion calculations per second), over 200 PB of storage, and 400 PB of active file. This pre-exascalar type supercomputer, with a new headquarters designed to house it, is destined to be one of the three most powerful in Europe and will be used especially to strengthen medical research in the creation of new drugs, the development of vaccines or the virus propagation simulations, as well as artificial intelligence applications and big data analysis.
But if this great monster of the BSC requires an investment of 200 million, the acquisition of the Galician machine has cost seven. The Finis Terrae III It was financed with FEDER funds (80%) and the contribution of the entities represented in the CESGA Foundation: the Galician Government (15%) and the CSIC (5%). These two institutions have been involved in the project since its origins, when in 1992 they signed the agreement for the construction of the headquarters on the university campus. However, from those beginnings that the oldest of the squad remembers to the present, everything here has changed a lot. The last thing that changed, apart from the brain, was the director: in March Lois Oroza, a telecommunications engineer without a tie and with piercing carved in the important quarry of the University of Vigo, doctor in Architecture and Computer Technology, which later gained patina working around the world (Israel, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United States, Lisbon, Brazil and Switzerland). Until, unexpectedly for him, when he was in Zurich as a senior researcher, he received a call from CESGA to return as managing director to the city where he was born 40 years ago.
The applications of the supercomputer are almost infinite, and to suppose it, one only has to take a look at the varied list of more than 200 entities that have already benefited from the device through contracts or collaboration agreements signed with the CESGA. There appear from the Galician Society of Ornithology to the Galician Audiovisual Cluster, through the Electricity of France (EDF), the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands, the Doñana park weather station or the Commune of Modena.
The Finis Terrae III It provides support and computing and storage infrastructures to public entities such as Augas de Galicia in the evaluation of flood risk based on predictions of flows and drafts. Also to the Galician Foundation of Xenomic Medicine for its clinical analyzes and research. It is used for oceanographic forecasting —through 27 variables of the state of the sea— in the Atlantic (from the north of Ireland to the south of the Sahara) and the Mediterranean to the east of the Balearic Islands carried out by the Copernicus service, or by the Oceanic Observatory of the island of Madeira and the Spanish Institute of Oceanography. The Galician supercomputer is the computational weapon of different genomic analysis companies such as the Genome4Care firm, in its research on rare diseases, or of companies dedicated to the technological development of telecommunications such as Gradiant.
Many of the international and national users enter the CESGA through the CSIC, which is part of the board of trustees; others, such as Meteogalicia, the regional weather forecasting service, arrive through the Xunta. But the scientific community and companies can present their own projects to access the supercomputer, just as CESGA opts for calls from all over Europe offering its technology and the specialization of its staff. There are 46 workers, with an overwhelming male majority that the supercomputing center aspires to balance.
The CSIC had 185 active user accounts at CESGA in 2021 from 41 centers, institutes and laboratories from various disciplines. These researchers declared having produced 104 articles for scientific publications and carried out, with the use of the CESGA infrastructure, 75 R&D projects in 2021.
Through the nuclei of Finis Terrae III they run problems related to the complete automation of lumber or canning factories. With specific software, DNA sequences are composed that enter fragmented from the analysis laboratories to the supercomputer or algorithms are developed to train artificial intelligence models. Patterns are sought and states or processes that occur in the natural world are simulated, for the development of drugs and new materials, or to predict the behavior of organisms, the environment or the climate in the scenario of global warming. The accumulation and crossing of data serve, for example, so that a Galician researcher is currently studying which drugs cancer patients respond best to according to the clinical profile of each one. The memory of super brain houses the largest and most accurate simulation of the universe that has been recreated to date (UCHUU), in whose development the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia was involved, and at the same time, also through the CSIC, supported studies on the survival of the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus on different surfaces, led by the Barcelona Institute of Materials Science.
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