"We've Got a Lot Planned for 2022"
Lots of plans for 2022: LRZ users can look forward to improved and new services
New technologies, more services: Recently, the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) has made a name for itself primarily in the field of quantum computing. But it is also developing further many other innovative IT services. "For us at the LRZ it is always about providing reliable IT services for science and research – that goes for quantum computing as well as for all our other services and infrastructures," says Prof. Dr. Dieter Kranzlmüller, Director of the LRZ. The data centre in Garching has a busy year ahead of it, and users of its services can look forward to many improvements and innovations. "We are working at full speed to optimize and modernize many LRZ services," says Prof. Dr. Helmut Reiser, Deputy Director of the LRZ. „For more stable, faster internet connections, we are in the process of replacing more than 1,000 of our 6,000 WLAN access points. We will modernize our router backbone to increase resilience. In addition, the topic of information security is becoming increasingly important." Users of the high-performance computers (HPC) at the LRZ will soon be able to access the systems with two-factor authentication, and the data storage and backup systems will also be secured even better. Last but not least, they are already working on ideas for a next-generation supercomputer at the LRZ. But these are just a few of the plans that Kranzlmüller and Reiser talk about in this interview.
What surprised you most in 2021 and what conclusion do you draw from the past year? Prof. Dr. Dieter Kranzlmüller: I was surprised by the success in the field of quantum computing. Together with the Walther-Meißner-Institute at BAdW and further partner organizations such as Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU), the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and our partners within the Munich Quantum Valley (MQV), we were successful with all project proposals and applications. Honestly - I didn't expect this, but it's a great confirmation of our work and collaborations. In order to be able to organize all projects, we have meanwhile established our Quantum Integration Centre (QIC) and a brand-new department for Quantum Computing and Technologies.
Prof. Dr. Helmut Reiser: 2021 was the second year in the pandemic and also an exhausting one. It has once again been shown that the LRZ functions excellently and that its employees work together remarkably. By now, I am 100 percent convinced of our flexible working schemes and working from home. I’ve noticed that some processes even run more smoothly as a result, and that this helps us tackle challenges like shortage of office space and the like. We have participated in many new research projects, successfully integrated new technology or processes in almost all areas - the number of tasks has probably grown for each and every one of us. We can be proud of what we achieve and have achieved against all odds.
Kranzlmüller: We have just compiled a list of tasks across the whole LRZ, and it shows - we have quite a lot planned again in 2022.
What are you looking forward to most in 2022? Kranzlmüller: To meet people in person again at the LRZ. I'm looking forward to the first occasion when we can all get together, perhaps with a drink in hand, and talk to each other face to face. I really hope we manage to do this when we are celebrating LRZ’s 60ies birthday in summer. Reiser: I'm looking forward to many new services and solutions. It simply gives me great satisfaction to see how our teams tackle problems or questions from users, be it incidents, the integration of new technology or the improvement of services. With the certifications for IT service management and information security, we have initiated an important process in the LRZ. We are aware that there are also some with reservations with respect to the changes. But now, while we are preparing for re-certification, the advantages of transparent, well-structured and lived processes are clearer than ever. They expand our scope for action, give us security, our customers reliability and enable more freedom. For the first time, we will include our research unit in the certification in 2022. To this end, we have just inventoried the relevant services and values and identified gaps, and we can now better identify where we still need to tighten our grip and where the technology and services are sufficient.
Future computing, supercomputing and quantum computing, artificial intelligence – you have mentioned of a long list of new projects and tasks for 2022. Reiser: We are working at full speed to optimize and modernize many LRZ services. In the future, we will support and offer the file storage and exchange platform Sync+Share federated with the Regionales Rechenzentrum Erlangen (RRZE) as part of BayernShare, and we are also putting the new archive and backup system into operation, which will significantly expand the storage space of the LRZ resources. For more stable, faster connections, we are in the process of replacing more than 1,000 of our 6,000 WLAN access points. We will modernize our router backbone to increase resilience, among other things. IT Security is also becoming increasingly important - we will be setting up two-factor authentication for the use of LRZ high performance computing or HPC resources, and together with other organizations we are currently setting up a Security Operarions Center for the whole of Bavaria, as well as a cross-university service for information security. Last but not least, we will also be launching a new computing cluster for artificial intelligence methods, modernizing the CoolMUC, and tackling the next Exascale generation supercomputer. And these are just a few items from the to-do list; our users can look forward to new services. In administration, we will be intensively occupied in 2022 with the amendment of the sales tax law and the development of a tax manual. This year, we will also test an online learning platform for individual training of colleagues internally and expect this to provide a low-threshold offering to cover the broad range of topics typical for the LRZ.
Kranzlmüller: In research, we won't run out of work in 2022 either: In quantum computing alone, we are involved in eleven different projects to research the new processors, develop software stacks and programming environments, and integrate quantum computing into supercomputing. The practical handling of this future technology is sure to be exciting. With the new AI cluster and the high-performance platform for data analytics, terrabyte - which we realise together with the German Aerospace Centre DLR – we can open up new customer and research areas for the LRZ, and the need for high-resolution simulations and visualisations continues to grow in the natural and life sciences, but also in mechanics or engineering. In addition, virtual reality is increasingly occupying our HPC resources. Researchers and lecturers are now approaching us more often with projects for learning apps or ideas for innovative forms of presentation. In the Mozilla Hubs, we have already set up the first rooms where visitors can even meet and exchange ideas. Last but not least, we are involved in the National Research Data Infrastructure (NFDI) association, where we work in seven consortia for the development of data resources in science - here we contribute our own technologies for data management and for location-independent access to research data.
How do research projects actually come about and how do they find their way to the LRZ? Kranzlmüller: Often through personal contact - researchers or professors contact the LRZ because they want to solve a computer or IT problem. This often leads to cooperation, which in turn leads to joint project proposals. In addition, as an academic computing centre, we naturally drive our own reserarch and develiopment strategy and participate in national and European tenders, and last but not least, as a supercomputing centre, we are very well networked internationally. New research projects are also being generated through close contacts with the two Munich universities of excellence and with Bavarian research institutions.
Quantum computing is a technology of the future, but whether it will really become usable is not yet at all certain. Why is the LRZ involved in this field and what strategy is it pursuing? Kranzlmüller: As with all other technologies, the LRZ is always concerned with providing reliable IT services for science and research. Data volumes are growing everywhere, including in research, and current supercomputers are under great strain when it comes to processing the largest volumes. Moreover - the energy demand grows with each new system. Quantum computers offer reason to hope that in certain research areas they will be able to process and evaluate much larger volumes of data better, faster and thus more energy-efficiently. If we now participate in research projects involving this technology of the future, we will not only be able to help shape it, but will also learn about practical areas of application at an early stage and can in turn develop services for scientists.
Reiser: It's similar to digitization - it's not enough to simply hand employees a laptop and tell them to work digitally. Processes have to be established, and suitable tools and software have to be made available. What do our scientists and users need and what helps them in their work - this question drives us to research quantum processors and new development environments, preferably as early as possible.
In Europe, we are starting to build the next generation of supercomputers, the exascale computers. At the LRZ, too, such a supercomputer is the next logical step after SuperMUC-NG - how is the LRZ tackling such a mammoth task? Kranzlmüller: For the next supercomputer, we are relying on a procurement procedure called innovation partnership, i.e. we will further develop computer technology with companies, build prototypes and test them to see whether they are suitable for use in science and research. We should be among the first worldwide to use this method in HPC. The next supercomputer will therefore be developed iteratively and in several phases, criteria for collaboration and for initial technical components are in place, and the first application process is underway. An important advantage of this co-design is that it allows us to evaluate new technologies at an early stage and test how existing HPC software and algorithms run on them, and we also get to know manufacturing companies in practical collaboration. But: The process is strictly regulated and forces us to maintain secrecy. We therefore cannot say anything publicly about technical requirements.
Will the new system be larger than the SuperMUC-NG, will it still fit into the computer cube? Reiser: The new system will be much more powerful but probably not larger in terms of floor space. The computer will fit into our compute cube. However, the power and cooling requirements will increase drastically and we will therefore need rebuilding, additions and probably even new buildings. But we have also prepared for this with various feasibility studies that we have already started in 2018.
How do the two of you actually divide up the management of the LRZ between yourselves? Reiser (laughs): Kranzlmüller thinks and Reiser steers. I'am joking, of course. We've been working very closely together for five years now and have found a modus operandi that works very well and in which each of us knows which topic will be addressed first by whom. The nice thing about this is that when questions and challenges arise, we coordinate on very short notice and sometimes very intensively to find the best solution for the LRZ.
Kranzlmüller: There is no division - this is mine and that is yours. We keep each other informed about issues, decisions and points to be clarified. Each of us takes the time when the other needs advice or a sparring partner, and each knows that he can rely on the other.
What is important to both of you in leadership? Reiser: Being open, honest and appreciative is very important to me. I like to work as part of a team. I can only achieve very little on my own. Together in the strong LRZ team, the many specialists, their good ideas, honest criticism, suggestions for improvement, critical debate for the sake of it, research, improvement and optimization enable us to achieve amazing results. A good work environment is also very important to me.
Kranzlmüller: All LRZers should feel comfortable and in good hands. If what you do is fun and you enjoy working together with your colleagues, then that is ideal for your own development, but also for the LRZ.
Reiser: I also enjoy laughing together, being happy about successes and having fun - laughing together can defuse a critical or unpleasant situation.
Do you actually always agree when it comes to the LRZ? Or how do you come to an agreement when you disagree? Reiser: No, of course we don't always agree. We are both open, honest and direct in our approach, which makes discussion and voting much easier. We openly exchange our arguments, weigh them up and discuss them. We often come to an agreement relatively quickly. If there is no agreement, we adjourn to "sleep on it" and then exchange our arguments again. So far, I have not experienced a complete disagreement or a failure to reach a solution that we can both support.
The LRZ is celebrating its 60th birthday this year, and you each have a wish - what do you wish for the LRZ? Reiser: That we continue our success as an academic data centre. The LRZ is a success story that everyone involved has managed well in the past and present. I hope that it can continue to be so successful, even in the face of the many challenges, and that we will always find and have the right people who put their hearts and ideas into the LRZ.
Kranzlmüller: The pandemic has shown that health is the most important thing. So, I wish that we all stay healthy and can celebrate the 60 years of LRZ together in presence. And then I also wish that we can convince more people to work at the LRZ and that we can offer our users what they need for their daily tasks in science and research. (Interview: vs)
Prof. Dr. Dieter Kranzlmüller has headed the LRZ Board of Directors since 2017. He teaches computer science at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU), heads the Institute for Computer Science and the Munich Network Management Team, a research group involving all Munich universities. Photo: A. Podo/LRZ
Prof. Dr. Helmut Reiser has been deputy director of the LRZ since 2017. He also teaches computer science at LMU and is involved in numerous networks and organizations, such as the German Research Foundation's Network Commission and the IT Advisory Board of the Bavarian State Museums. Photo: A. Podo/LRZ