Earlier this month, construction began on a new four-floor centre in the city of Ostrava that will house the first Czech supercomputer. The site, which will house hundreds of processors and will employ between 150 and 250 staff, will have massive computing power capable of complex simulations in breakthrough fields such as nanotechnology. It is expected to begin full operation in 2015.
Ivo Vondrák, the rector at the VŠB-Technical University of Ostrava and one of the main people behind the project, says it will mean a boost not only in science and international cooperation but also for local industry.
“Historically Ostrava has always been closely tied to industry but one of the issues is that industry needs research facilities. Of course you can have labs, but a supercomputer is something that allows new solutions. That is the reason we launched this project known as IT4 Innovations to build a supercomputer facility to help in industries.
“Of course, its uses will also go far beyond that: it is also very much about emerging technologies. There is nanotechnology and disaster mapping or prognosis, all areas we want to tackle with the supercomputer.”
You mentioned disaster simulations or computations... can I ask about specific details?
“Of course. The first topic that we began to deal with was flood danger. In the late 1990s and in 2002 and later the Czech Republic had major problems with flooding. One possibility was to try and predict how floods might evolve and that is something that we are focussing on. In that, we are cooperating closely with one of the biggest companies dealing with this problem DHI (the Danish Hydrological Institute); we would like to provide our algorithms and tools dealing with floods to other parts of Europe.”
“A second problem that can be tackled by the supercomputer is motor traffic. We have bigger and bigger problems with traffic flow. And while we can’t introduce new highways or new routes there are other ways of trying to smooth out traffic flow. We want to collect all possible information on it. Traffic and flooding are similar problems and are related: during flooding it can be tricky to get into place with an emergency squad so this is something we would like combine.”
“A third thing we want to look at is pollution. Ostrava still has a problem with pollution and that needs to be monitored as well.”
For a layperson not familiar with the term ‘supercomputer’, how should they relate it to their laptop or desktop computer?
“We are talking about the equivalent of 10,000 laptop or desktop computers. But the main importance or difference is that the supercomputer will enable so called ‘power computing’. All the computers will be interconnected and the ‘magic’ and research is about how to programme this kind of parallel supercomputer. What is of top importance is the parallelisation of computer power.”