Analysing growing amounts of data professionally

Take a short tour of the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) and find out about the highlights 2023: the launch of SuperMUC-NG Phase 2, terrabyte and the first quantum computers, how artificial intelligence is enriching research, the construction of the LRZ CAVE made entirely from light-emitting diodes and why LRZ services are reliable and secure.


There's a lot to discover at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ): Around 700 people of all ages were able to see this for themselves in autumn 2023. To mark the national "Mouse Day" of German broadcaster WDR in October, the LRZ, an institute of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BAdW), opened its doors again for the first time since the pandemic. Just like the families that visited, around 40 LRZ employees had a lot of fun presenting how the LRZ reliably supplies Munich universities and Bavarian research institutes with IT services and practical data storage and why it conducts fundamental research with its BEAST test environment. As one of three supercomputing centres in Germany, the LRZ offers scientists access to innovative high-performance and supercomputers, systems for artificial intelligence (AI) based data analysis and the first quantum technologies. The centre also enbales researchers to visualise study results and transform them into virtual worlds – it is time to take an expedition through the LRZ.

Using AI to expand the set of research methods

The tour starts in the LRZ's double cube, where ultra-modern systems have been set up. terrabyte, for example, is the name of the high-performance platform for analysing satellite images. It was created in cooperation with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), it provides fast data lines to enable access to its archive in Oberpfaffenhofen for research purposes, it uses AI tools to support the analysis of earth observation data and its processing on the LRZ supercomputers – for climate and environmental simulations, for example. The DLR uses terrabyte to update the World Settlement Footprint (WSF) datasets on the development of megacities. The Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation (bidt) uses it to develop a geoportal. The ROOT Project uses satellite data to track the condition of local forests and prepares this knowledge for the economy, authorities and the public.

One floor up, the LRZ‘s flagship, the SuperMUC-NG, has recently been expanded: The black cabinets of Phase 2 (SNG-2) have been added to the system halfway through its runtime. SNG-2 integrates graphics processing units (GPU) that accelerate high-performance computing (HPC), ensure greater (energy) efficiency and are suitable for AI methods. This means that classic simulations can now be combined with statistical models - and new insights can be expected. The first scenarios are already being tested, but require optimised workflows and algorithms: The LRZ specialists will develop these with scientists working on the SNG-2. At the same time, they are also working on a successor system to SuperMUC-NG, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the LRZ needs space for new technology to provide power and cooling. They are therefore also working intensively on construction plans to expand the LRZ.

Quantum computing for Germany and Europe

Like GPUs, quantum technologies could accelerate supercomputing and add computing methods to research. The Quantum Integration Centre (QIC) in the basement of the LRZ is already providing a glimpse into this future: experiments are being carried out there with quantum processors (QPU) and these are being integrated into HPC systems. In cooperation with partner institutes from Munich Quantum Valley (MQV), the first analogue-digital quantum computer has been constructed for research purposes. The EuroHPC Joint Undertaking initiative aims to benefit from this experience. It is locating one of six European quantum systems at the LRZ and is investing around 43 million euros in the acquisition of the systems together with the federal government and the Federal State of Bavaria. Following the example of the Q-Exa quantum demonstrator, these will initially be connected to the LRZ's supercomputers so that researchers from all over Europe will soon be able to use this future technology. The capacities will then be gradually expanded to at least 100 qubits.

The next areas of research are already being explored at the QIC: The elegant cryostats that cool the quantum processors using superconductors have been complemented by a new system based on an ion trap from Alpine Quantum Technologies (AQT). This traps electrically charged atoms and molecules in order to activate them as qubits for calculations. The MQV's partner institutes use the system for research purposes, and these experiments will show the advantages of these quantum technologies and which application scenarios are conceivable in science.

Research results as great cinema

The Centre for Virtual Reality and Visualisation (V2C) at the LRZ is popular with young and old alike. Here, research is visualised in brilliant, sometimes spatial images and becomes a great cinema. The LRZ-CAVE was renovated in 2023. The open, five-sided cube for working in virtual reality (VR) is the first of its kind to consist entirely of light emitting diodes (LEDs). 1620 LED panels on 225 frames or cabinets improve resolution and image quality. They enable stereoscopic displays with up to 60 images per second for each eye. Combined with an optical tracking system of the latest generation, the LRZ-CAVE creates a homogeneous spatial impression with extremely sharp images. Movements and zooming in on details work seamlessly: immersing yourself in simulations from the environmental, life and natural sciences as well as exploring digitalised, (art) historical spaces becomes a visual excursion that often sheds new light on contexts. For the LED CAVE, the V2C team brought the celestial globe from the Bavarian art treasure Bavarikon and the villa of the temple manager Sîn-Nādā and his wife Nuṭṭuptum from the 2nd millennium BC into VR.

Reliable services, secure data

Computers and networks, data storage and IT services must function reliably. This is the most important requirement at the LRZ. To ensure this, the computer centre has its processes checked by external inspectors. In cooperation with Bavarian universities, the LRZ also works on IT and cyber security measures. So that scientists can be sure that they can access data and LRZ services at any time via the Munich science network, they play through possible emergencies or even brutally pull the plug in tests. In this way, they prove to themselves and the testers that the dual strategy of IT is effective and that a securely running device immediately takes over the work of a failed one. This is convincing: in 2023, the LRZ's processes were once again certified as trustworthy and secure. The LRZ also cooperates with universities in Bavaria as part of the Digital Network of Bavaria to roll out useful IT services or platforms, particularly in order to develop better strategies together. For example, the Inter-University IT Service Centre for Information Security (HIT-IS) ensures better protection of academic IT systems through joint monitoring.

Further initiatives to optimise and explore new technologies, including at an international level, are in preparation, as is the establishment of new systems. It looks like there will be even more to look at and marvel at in 2024: #CU@LRZ and at the BAdW Open Day on May, 4., 2024. (vs)