KIT Celebrates 40 Years of High-Performance Computing in Karlsruhe

On September 14, KIT celebrated the 40-year era of high-performance computing in Karlsruhe with a festive colloquium. The invited guests enjoyed the opportunity to learn and exchange information about the entire range of HPC in Karlsruhe.

Eric Schnepf, Klaus-Peter Mickel, Simon Raffeiner and Rudolf Lohner (f. l. t. r.) in the exhibition room marvel at computer technology from past decades.

Translated with DeepL.com

On September 14, 2023, the SCC celebrated the era of high-performance computing, which has already spanned 40 years in Karlsruhe, with an internal festive colloquium. The invited guests from research policy and management, data center planning, construction and operation, as well as scientists, both former and active, were able to learn first-hand about the entire range of 40 years of high-performance computing in Karlsruhe during lectures, panel discussions, as well as an exhibition and guided tours. There was plenty of room to review successes and challenges, to philosophize a bit about the future, and of course to celebrate together and share interesting stories.

In his welcoming remarks, Peter Castellaz, the head of the department responsible for HPC at the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts (MWK), highlighted the state's bwHPC strategy, with which the SCC has not only implemented important aspects of content, but also played a leading role in an intensively lived culture of cooperation. "In addition to the HPC-specific resources and the associated methodological knowledge, KIT has successfully contributed in particular with its expertise in the field of data and research software", says Peter Castellaz. He finds words of praise for the state-wide federated identity management bwIDM, with which the SCC, together with other state institutions, has developed decisive basic requirements for cooperatively provided services - also beyond HPC. In order to accentuate not only technological developments but also the topics of research software and sustainability, a comprehensive state strategy is being worked out until 2032, Peter Castellaz lets it be known.

In her welcoming remarks, KIT Vice President for Digitization and Sustainability Kora Kristof is impressed by the community that has developed over a long period of time in the HPC environment, starting with the Gauss Centre for Supercomputing (GCS) and continuing with the different centers at the Tier-2 (Gauss Alliance) and Tier-3 levels, nationally and in Baden-Württemberg. "What has been developed in HPC by KIT and other institutions at the state level has also helped shape developments nationally, and special thanks are due for that," Kora Kristof notes. In addition, KIT has combined high-performance computing with the topic of energy efficiency and achieved outstanding successes with it. Here, the German Computing Center Award 2017 for ForHLR II and 13th place on the international best list of the most energy-efficient computers for HoreKa speak for themselves. "And in the future, many interesting topics that shape sustainability will also occupy us in the HPC environment - this concerns sustainable buildings and infrastructures, the use of sustainable materials and resource conservation, as well as aspects of sustainable software" predicts Kora Kristof.

Transitioning to the technical presentations, Martin Frank, director of the SCC, characterized the HPC business as a mix of something very dynamic and something conservative. "The dynamic can be seen very clearly in the development of HPC systems over the last 40 years, the conservative is, for example, in the handling of very complex processes such as procurement and the secure operation of the infrastructure," Martin Frank concretizes in his welcoming speech, knowing that experience and innovation are the important poles in the HPC business that make the SCC an important player in national high-performance computing. "All this ensures that scientists are supported in the best possible way in their research with high-performance computers and research software."

In the first technical lecture, Eric Schnepf introduced the beginnings of high-performance computing in Karlsruhe and covered developments up to the present. He made his first IT experiences in the 1970s at the University of Karlsruhe with Algol programs, which he created on punched tape using a Siemens T100 teletype and ran on the Zuse Z 23. In the 80s, in addition to universal computers, he was able to familiarize himself with vector computers, on which it was possible to compute applications more accurately and faster. Eric Schnepf dates the beginning of the HPC era in Karlsruhe to May 1983, when a state vector computer, a Cyber 205, was installed and operated at the University Computing Center in Karlsruhe after previous tests on a similar machine at the University of Bochum. User support was provided by a team from the University of Karlsruhe and what was then the Karlsruhe Nuclear Research Center (KfK). "The procurement only came about because a large community worked very well together: university, KfK and industry partners" affirms Eric Schnepf in his presentation. In addition to many interesting technical excursions into the world of the computer systems installed at the university at that time, Eric Schnepf also gave examples of applications - for example, from climate research - and went into detail about the ODIN cooperation created between Siemens-Nixdorf and the university, which stands for Optimal Data Models and Algorithms for Engineering and Natural Sciences on High-Performance Computers. A milestone was the first TOP500 list of supercomputers, which appeared in 1993. The original handout shows the German list with the two first-placed S600/20 systems from Karlsruhe and Aachen. Eric Schnepf rounded off his presentation with an overview slide of the most important HPC systems of the last 40 years in Karlsruhe, placing them in the borderlines of the TOP500 (rank 1 .. rank 500). "From Cyber 205 (1983) to HoreKa (2023), that's eight powers of ten performance increase, so on average every 10 years factor 100 acceleration. I think that's something to be proud of," says Eric Schnepf, appreciating the development at the HPC in Karlsruhe.

Klaus-Peter Mickel, physicist and former director of the SCC, was already working as a programmer for the IBM machines at the Computing Center of the Karlsruhe Research Center (FZK) at the end of the 1960s and also experienced and shaped the developments of the high-performance computing systems in Karlsruhe from the very beginning. When he accepted a position at the Karlsruhe Computing Center in 1970, he took over the supervision of university employees who wanted to use the FZK machines. After various professional stations, Klaus-Peter Mickel then took over the management of the computer center at the FZK in 1996. In his review of the years between 1966 and 1996, Klaus-Peter Mickel describes the intensive cooperation between the computer experts at the university and the FZK, which finally, starting in 1996, led to the planning of a sophisticated technical and organizational cooperation between the two scientific computer centers - the Virtual Computer Center Karlsruhe was founded. Virtual, yes, because it did not come to a joint computing center of both institutions at one location, as originally considered, but to an association with a legally secured cooperation agreement. There was a joint management committee and different architectural focuses on both sides, each with mutually contributed resources. The university focused on massively parallel computers and the FZK on vector computers, which were very powerful at the time. A dedicated data line connected the two computing centers over 10 km as the crow flies, reaching the respectable speed of 155 megabits per second at the time. Many positive effects were achieved by setting up the virtual data center. In addition to a high level of efficiency, because both sides did not have to maintain both architectures, there was a great benefit for the user groups because they had both architectures at their disposal.

In his lecture, Rudolf Lohner gave an intensive insight into the origins of the university's computing center and the associated development as well as the operation of the massively parallel computers in Karlsruhe, the so-called computing clusters. Rudolf Lohner worked for 20 years for the mathematics professors Alefeld and Kulisch, whom he credited as pioneers of the first hours and founders of the university computer center. He then moved from the Mathematics Institute to the Computing Center at the University of Karlsruhe in the 2000s and was an expert on energy efficiency in high-performance computing centers at the SCC until the end of his active career. In the mid-1990s, massively parallel computing clusters became increasingly common, and such systems have also been operated for research purposes at the university's computing center over the last few years, right up to the present day. Rudolf Lohner presented in an entertaining ramble not only the different cluster systems, but also some important projects and application scenarios. The spectrum ranges from the mathematical simulation of sailboat characteristics for the America's Cup, to the generation of precise weather forecasts, to the development of the institute's own cluster management systems. For the Karlsruhe High Performance Computer (HoreKa) operated today at the SCC and its predecessor systems ForHLR I and ForHLR II, Rudolf Lohner designed the extremely efficient energy and operating concept together with the HPC team. The associated new building was completed in 2015 and houses HPC systems that can be used throughout Germany at KIT's North Campus. A few months ago, the necessary structural and technical preparations were completed to make the building fit for future, even much more powerful computing systems with up to 2 megawatts of power consumption.

Following the exciting technical presentations, which highlighted the entire 40 years of HPC in Karlsruhe from various angles, guests were able to take part in guided tours of the HPC infrastructure as well as admire data center exhibits from the last 40 years in a specially designed exhibition room.

The SCC would like to thank the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of Baden-Württemberg, the KIT Presidium, all those involved in shaping and consistently developing 40 years of HPC in Karlsruhe, as well as the organization team of this festive colloquium around Simon Raffeiner (see photo), and of course all its guests.


Achim Grindler
Photos: Markus Breig (KIT)