The Vrije Universiteit Brussel will host and manage the next Tier-1 supercomputer of the Flemish Supercomputer Centre (VSC). The VUB will place the supercomputer at the Nexus data centre on its Green Energy Park site in Zellik. The supercomputer represents an investment of €12 million and will be operational in autumn 2025.
“Supercomputers are strategically important for Flanders,” says Jo Brouns, Flemish minister for Science Policy and Innovation. “Thanks to this infrastructure, Flemish researchers, authorities and industry can continue to work on the major challenges of tomorrow. Complex and time-consuming calculations will be performed faster and more efficiently, for both climate simulations and training AI models. In the fight against Covid-19, supercomputers were used to map the spread of the virus.”
The VSC, under the authority of the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO), is a collaboration between Flanders’ five universities. It offers the wider research community of universities, colleges and businesses the necessary infrastructure and support to perform large scientific calculations. That infrastructure consists of supercomputers, a cloud environment and large-scale data storage capacity. Based on their capacity, supercomputers are divided into two tiers: Tier-2, of which each university has one in its own data centre, and Tier-1, of which there is just one for the whole region.
This is the first time that VUB has been allowed to house and manage the Tier-1 supercomputer. Its predecessor, Hortense, is currently housed and managed by UGent.
“A supercomputer like this is a collection of a series of rapid computers that communicate with each other along superfast connections,” says Ward Poelmans, head of department of Scientific Data and Computing at VUB. “The difference between Tier-1 and Tier-2 supercomputers is the scale and power. Tier-1 allows you to carry out many more calculations in the same time frame and perform much more complex data analysis and simulations, even if those calculations require a large amount of data.”
The Tier-1 supercomputer will be available to all researchers in Flanders, who must apply to the VSC for computing time. Their request will be evaluated by a panel of experts to assess whether the researchers would be using the supercomputer efficiently. The intention is to fully use the computer’s capacity and allow as many projects as there is computing time. Businesses and SMEs can also request computing time. “The supercomputer is a lever to facilitate new scientific insights and innovation,” says Poelmans.
A Tier-1 supercomputer has a substantial operational cost, notably the electricity required to run the system and its refrigeration. The new data centre at Green Energy Park aims to be as energy-efficient as possible. For most of the year, refrigeration will make use of “free air cooling” and active cooling will only be needed during hot periods. Solar panels will cover the energy cost of active cooling as much as possible.
The Nexus data centre is being built on the Zellik research park and will house the data centre of VUB and UZ Brussel, among others. It will be the greenest and highest-performing data centre in Belgium and aligns with VUB’s ambitions to develop the site into a fully fledged innovation campus. More info you'll find here.