Switzerland to upgrade supercomputer to improve Alps weather forecasts

The Swiss National Supercomputing Center (CSCS) will upgrade its supercomputer with Nvidia graphics processors so the system can more accurately predict the weather in the Swiss Alps.

By upgrading the Cray XC30 system, the CSCS wants to give Switzerland's national weather service, MeteoSwiss, the ability to make specific forecasts for small valleys that current models can't discern, said Thomas Schoenemeyer, associate director of the technology integration team of the CSCS.

"Switzerland has one of the most complex topographies in the world," he said, noting that steep mountains can cause differences in weather patterns from valley to valley.

The supercomputer is called "Piz Daint," after one of Switzerland's mountain peaks.

In an undertaking that will take the rest of the year, CSCS will enhance Piz Daint so that it has enough computing power to reach speeds of at least one petaflop, up from its current maximum performance of 750 teraflops, said Schoenemeyer.

Due to become operational in early 2014, the upgraded system will use Nvidia Tesla K20X GPU accelerators to run 30 slightly different weather forecasting models simultaneously, according to Schoenemeyer.

The combination of CPUs and GPUs (graphics processing units) will lead to better application performance, he said.

Another aspect of the upgraded system is that it will use water from nearby Lake Lugano for cooling, and the water will later be reused to heat the CSCS building.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

Read more about hardware in Computerworld's Hardware Topic Center.

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