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Researchers aim to squeeze billion-core supercomputer into one-litre box

An research initiative backed by the European Commission aims to develop a one-litre, billion-core supercomputer in a programme that its participants believe will bring Europe back into the computing-hardware industry on the back of the continent’s pioneering work in mobile communications and safety-critical systems.

In a keynote speech at the Design Automation and Test in Europe conference, Max Lemke, deputy head of the Information Society Directorate General at the European Commission, said: “When we looked at data centres we saw challenges coming up. We need to get performance closer to mobile platforms in terms of efficiency and energy. We believe Europe is strong in the relevant technologies and this provides an opportunity to get back into a market we are not currently very strong in. We can build on our strengths in embedded computing and experience in time critical and dependable systems.”

Rolf Riemenschneider, research program officer for embedded systems and control at the European Commission, said: “We see not just an explosion of data but an explosion of real-time online data. We see more interaction between machines and between human-interface devices.”

Riemenschneider added that the challenge lay in building emergent “systems of systems where the cloud meets the embedded world”.

At the conference, researchers such as Luigi Grasso, a fellow at the Cluster for Application and Technology Research in Europe on NanoElectronics (CATRENE), proposed the situation where supercomputers attached to mobile basestations would filter real-time inputs for larger machines in the cloud. “There will be a data deluge from sensors, cars with GPS receivers, and social networks,” according to Grasso.

A number of research projects have started up using ARM processors because they are widely used in low-power systems such as mobile phones as well as one that involves AMD and IBM hosted at the Technical University of Dresden. This will couple the companies’ work on processors that will be stacked for high density using both photonic and radio links to communicate instead of today’s electrical wiring.

The aim, said TU Dresden researcher Gerhard Fettweis, is to have within twelve years a box 10cm on each that contains a billion processors and the memory they need to work on large compute applications.

“A billion cores sounds a lot,” says Fettweis, “but that is the scale of processing we will see ten to fifteen years from now. That is what we are reaching for.”

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