Testing HPC Technologies and Shaping the Future of Computers


Meet the BEAST at LRZ

Researchers at LRZ are building the Bavarian Energy, Architecture, and Software Testbed in order to help proactively use and shape emerging technologies.

The Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) is implementing the “Hightech Agenda” of the Bavarian State Government in its field of expertise and is launching the ambitious "Future Computing" program. Firstly, it is setting up a test environment with the latest computer technologies available on the market. Secondly, it is developing offers to train both staff members as well as the next generation of HPC scientists to exploit and explore new computer technologies and  high-performance computing (HPC) systems in collaboration with selected key scientific partners.

"We want to intensively research the latest computer systems and architectures, their energy requirements, and mode of operation, without disturbing the services for our users at the production systems at LRZ," explains the  computer scientist Josef Weidendorfer, who heads the Future Computing group g at the LRZ. To his end, login and storage servers are already available in Garching, as well as two AMD Rome systems and two servers with Marvell ThunderX2 processors, each with graphics cards as accelerators. The centre will install a Cray CS500 system by mid-October, which uses the same Fujitsu A64FX processors as Fugaku, a Japanese system that is currently the world’s fastest supercomputer. Over the next few years, the test environment will be steadily expanded to include more systems and components. LRZ leadreship envisions this test environment as becoming a permanent fixture of the research work at the centre and it will also serve to evaluate new computer architectures for Bavaria's largest scientific computing center.

Super-Tech at LRZ: Preparing for the next generation of high-performance computers

"Bavarian Energy, Architecture, and Software Testbed" or  BEAST, is the name the LRZ has chosen for this innovative collection of computer and storage technologies that LRZ’s specialists are now putting through their paces.

"BEAST serves as a rich environment to prepare for the next generation of supercomputers,” says Prof. Dr. Dieter Kranzlmüller, Director of LRZ. "We use it to investigate which computer architectures are suitable for larger systems and for parallelization. With the experience we gain through BEAST, we will be able to plan the successor to SuperMUC-NG and future services even better and more soundly."  In research, the amount of data that supercomputers have to handle  is currently growing. Applications such as machine learning and artificial intelligence also require new chip design, or even totally different  computer architectures.

The needs posed by these emerging technologies have already begun influencing HPC systems, and in the near future, the need to help organize work or memory performance more efficiently will only grow. As a result, new ideas for computers are  needed, and HPC centres need to play an active role in research into the benefits of new technologies and architectures. In the long run, BEAST will therefore contain prototypes and the latest systems, which LRZ wants to further develop and build together with manufacturers and with key research partners. "BEAST is not a conventional LRZ service," Kranzlmüller continues. "However, joint development and co-design of new technology is pushing supercomputing and will ultimately pay off for science and society.

Open for questions from researchers and students

Although BEAST is not a service of  LRZ in the traditional sense, selected user groups will be given access to the systems. LRZ specialists will be the first users of these novel systems in order  to familiarize themselves with new computer systems and processors. Further, HPC software, such as the monitoring tool DCDB or the smart control system Wintermute, need to be adapted for  future systems. "With BEAST, we can prepare ourselves to offer modern, complex architectures and necessary software environments at service quality," says Weidendorfer. "The test environment also enables less goal-oriented and significantly more experimental research projects. We are therefore opening the test environment to selected researchers who are working on next-generation hardware". These researchers will be able to configure operating systems and hardware according to individual needs and modify them for their own applications. The LRZ will actively accompany and support this work and observe how hardware can be built and used more efficiently.

Gather contacts and get to know innovative technology

BEAST is interesting for young scientists and junior technical staff: LRZ, in collaboration with the two Munich universities, now offers an internship for computer science students interested in modern computer architectures and their energy-efficient use, allowing the next generation of HPC experts early exposure to emerging technologies that will likely play major roles in their professional careers. These internship opportunities aim to motivate students to make use of the latest computer technologies for bachelor or master theses.

Participants will use BEAST to familiarize themselves with the technologies of the future and also make valuable contacts. They will regularly solve research questions and practical tasks on and with the new systems. In addition, technology companies will describe and contextualize new system designs and discuss them with young scientists. The BEAST internship will be coordinated by Dr. Karl Fürlinger (Ludwigs-Maximilians University Munich ), Dr. Weidendorfer, and the computer scientist Bengisu Elis (Technical Uuniversity of Munich).

"I'm researching how to optimize communication in Graphic Processing Units (GPU),” Elis says. "With BEAST, I can compare combinations of GPU and CPU architectures from different vendors, and I can also test and improve the performance and portability of my code on different systems, BEAST offers valuable resources to increase the quality of my work, the idea that these can also contribute to improve the future systems of the LRZ is an additional incentive".