HPC Yearbook 19/20

Disaster recovery

Gemma Church investigates how HPC is helping real-time responses to global disasters

High-Performance Computing 2019-20


hen disaster strikes, there’s no time to waste. Te right decisions must be made at the right moment to reduce

the impact of such dynamic and devastating incidents to, ultimately, save lives. Researchers are now starting to harness

the power of supercomputing to try to help those dealing with these disasters by facilitating near-real-time decision making. Te Vestec project considers this

issue. Funded by the EU’s Horizon2020 programme, it started in September 2018 and runs for three years. Vestec’s primary goal is to fuse real-time data sources with HPC machines, for urgent decision making in response to disasters. Te project has 11 partners with a

different area of expertise, including the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and EPCC, a supercomputing and data-services centre at the University of Edinburgh. Te project requires a radical rethink

from the HPC community. Traditionally, supercomputers are optimised for overall throughput of jobs, with individual jobs


potentially taking a long time in a batch queue. However, for Vestec, jobs need to run in a few minutes (not hours or days) to leverage real-time data as it becomes available and support urgent decision making. Andreas Gerndt, deputy head at the DLR

and project co-ordinator of Vestec, said: ‘Te monolithic approach of high-performance computing has to be broken up to support real-time data streams from sensor sources such as satellites, surveillance cameras or even social media networks.’ In other words, supercomputers now need

to extract important information to enable precise, timely decisions. Nicholas Brown, a research fellow at the EPCC, explained: ‘Very many simulation codes exist, which can be used to model disaster scenarios, but this is oſten done retrospectively, aſter the event has long since past.’ Brown said: ‘With the massively increased

power of modern supercomputers, it should be possible to instead run these simulations while a disaster is on-going, to help inform response teams and aid decision making.’ Tis turns today’s methods on their heads,

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