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From Bologna to Naples, Italy and the supercomputers

The new supercomputer in the Bologna Weather Centre will enable weather forecasting up to two weeks in advance. Meanwhile, in Naples, Cresco6 will breathe new life into energy research.

by Luca Longo
01 March 2019
6 min read
byLuca Longo
01 March 2019
6 min read

The team work of Italy's supercomputers

Supercomputing is an area in which Europe is unfortunately lagging behind - with the exception of a few centres run by private companies, which are particularly modern and powerful. Eni's HPC5 is an example of this, and boasts a computational power of around 52 PetaFlops/s, which increases to 70 when HPC5 is combined with HPC4. In order to compete with China and the United States (the leaders in this area), the European Union thus needs much more: a development programme that can close this competitive gap. Accordingly, the EuroHPC was developed, and over the course of just a few years, this system has already placed its cards on the table: eight processing centres, three with a capacity of 150 PetaFLOP/s and five with 40, connected to the GÉANT European high-speed network, resulting in an overall calculation speed of 650 million billion mathematical operations per second.

The immense computing system will be based in eight different European locations, and Bologna is one of these.

 

Where do the data used for weather forecasting come from?

Of all the areas of application in which this supercomputer will represent a major breakthrough, weather forecasting is no doubt one. All of the predictions relating to the future of the clouds, which we all check on a regular basis, come from a single point: the powerful supercomputers in the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) in Reading, a few kilometres west of London. These predictions are distributed to all the weather services in Europe, and then each of these transforms the numerical information received into the diagrams we are used to seeing superimposed over maps - smiling suns, brooding little clouds or tiresome showers - before sharing this information with the public.
The centre in Reading is home to two twin Cray XC40 supercomputers. In the ranking of the fastest computers in the world, these two systems appear side by side in 42nd and 43rd place, each with a peak power of 4.2 PetaFlops/s (which equates to 4.2 million billion mathematical operations per second): less than a tenth of the capacity of Eni's HPC5 – the fastest industrial supercomputer in the world – with a peak capacity of 52 PetaFlop/s.

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From Reading to Bologna

The British computers receive detailed information from all European countries - for Italy, this comes from the Air Force and ARPA - which is measured on the ground, and then they combine this information with the data collected from meteorological satellites. In total, the computers receive 50 million observations per day. On the basis of these, they simulate the behaviour of the atmosphere across the entire continent and surrounding seas, dividing this area into a grid of squares measuring 18 km on each side. Then, using complex fluid-dynamic models, these computers calculate the weather forecasts for up to three days ahead, as well as providing estimates of the weather trends that can extend to up to seven days with a reasonable percentage of reliability.
Unfortunately, Reading's processing centre is too small for the next generation of supercomputers that will soon need to be brought in to replace the two Cray models. For this reason, a tender was launched for the next ECMWF site, in which Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom and Italy took part; Italy was successful.
With an investment of 40 million Euros, the Tecnopolo centre in Bologna will host the new generation of European ECMWF meteorological supercomputers, as early as 2020. These supercomputers will be able to simulate the atmosphere with squares that are 50 times smaller, measuring "just" 5 km on each side. This improved resolution will enable reliable forecasts to be made up to two weeks in advance from 2025 onwards. This supercomputer will be managed by CINECA, the Inter-university Consortium for Automatic Calculation in north-eastern Italy, of which 67 Italian universities are members, along with 9 national research bodies, the Policlinico Umberto I in Rome and the Ministry of Education, University and Research.

The power of CRESCO6

The Italian "supercomputing" world has recently been further enhanced with a new addition.
After HPC5, created and developed by Eni at the Green Data Center in Ferrara Erbognone, the ENEA Research Center in Portici near Naples has welcomed the CRESCO6, a new supercomputer with the capacity to exceed the computing power of its predecessors, offering a significant boost to Italian energy research. With a computing power of 700 TeraFlops/s, CRESCO6 joins the CRESCO5 (100 TeraFlops/s) and CRESCO4 (25 TeraFlops/s) supercomputers, enabling ENEA to create a computing system with a capacity of more than 0.8 PetaFlops/s in total, with the ability to meet the scalability requirements of parallel computing operations.
This new Italian supercomputer is the product of the synergy that has arisen from the partnership between ENEA and CINECA.
CRESCO6 will also be used in activities designed to support Research and Development in the other institutional sectors of ENEA, and in the collaborative projects between national and international bodies and with the Italian manufacturing system.

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CRESCO6 being installed

Beginning with the seismic imaging and numerical modelling used in field engineering, where Eni is a key player on a global scale, encompassing the molecular modelling of photoactive polymers at the heart of LSC and OPV technology, and from the climate modelling of the Arctic cryosphere at the Eni-CNR Research Centre in Lecce to fusion reactor physics, as studied in the

Commonwealth Fusion Systems consortium with the contribution of Eni and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is running in parallel with the scientific challenge that EuroFusion is engaged in alongside ENEA and CNR. A survey conducted by Fujitsu, Japan's leading ICT company, identified cross-organisational collaboration as one of the key components in the success of innovative projects undertaken by companies, on a shared journey as part of which the rapid spread of digitisation within the energy sector is opening new horizons, working towards the progressive identification of new energy sources. In the field of Italian scientific research, this strategy is already in evidence, and is one of the most advanced at global level.