Travel for my job often means visiting colleagues all over the world at their high-performance computing centers. As they are hosting some of the most powerful, and therefore very expensive, computers in the world, it is clear that this requires a little bit more than a large enough room in the basement of your university or research center institute. For one thing, they require quite some power: a typical top25 HPC system installation with the actual computer, the high-speed network, enough storage and cooling needs anything between 5 and 25 MW.

In this first part of a new mini-series (“HPC Centres Around the World”), I would like to show you the most beautiful HPC machine room of the world at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC).

Mare Nostrum Supercomputer at BSC -- picture by BSC (2003)

Mare Nostrum Supercomputer at BSC — picture by BSC (2003)

As you can see, it is actually inside a church, a de-secularized church to be precise 😉  The stories (at least how I remember it) is that in 2003, IBM wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to build a world-class HPC system out if industry-standard compute blades. A partner, the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) at Barcelona, was quickly found. UPC would get a special deal, however, there was the requirement that the system would be up and running in a year. The problem then was to find a building suitable to be able to host a supercomputer, as constructing a new one would have taken too long. The University had a church building on campus which at that time was used for chorus singing. This is actually the reason why the roof of the church inside is covered with a red carpet — it was installed to improve the acoustics for singing. In order to avoid having to cool the whole building a steel / glass frame was constructed inside the church housing the computer. During a sight-seeing tour, visitors are taken to the gallery in the backside of the church, with nice movie theater like seating, with a great view down to the computer. The tour guide can actually walk on top of the glass cage and this way can easily show and explain the different parts of the computer.

If you are interested in more pictures just search for “marenostrum” and “bsc” at Google Images. And, if you visit Barcelona in the future — a good idea anyhow — make sure to reserve some time for the “Temple of HPC Technology” as I call it 😉

BSC machine room from the outside -- Picture by Bernd Mohr

BSC machine room from the outside — Picture by Bernd Mohr