The fight against COVID-19 has been waged in hospitals, nursing homes, pharmaceutical laboratories, and quietly but powerfully, in a data center in Bologna, Italy. There, a not-for-profit consortium of dozens of Italian universities, research centers, and government ministries called Cineca houses Italy’s largest computing center and one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world – the Marconi100.
Cineca researchers are using the Marconi100 to simulate the behavior of proteins that allow the coronavirus to replicate. Using that data, they run virtual tests to find the pharmacological molecules most effective at inhibiting the virus and collaborate with pharmaceutical researchers to shorten timelines for therapeutic drug development.
This is a massive computational project. Each protein requires at least one week of continuous simulation on 16 nodes of the Marconi100 — a process that would take at least four months on a standard computer. Cineca’s supercomputer has been executing millions of billions of operations per second in a non-stop effort to help scientists understand the coronavirus and combat the global pandemic.
Not surprisingly, the high-performance computing (HPC) required for this project presents a unique power and cooling challenge. The Marconi100 is a new accelerated cluster based on IBM Power9 architecture and Volta NVIDIA GPUs, providing a computing capacity of about 32 PFlops and opening the way to pre-exascale supercomputers.
The responsibility for ensuring these COVID-19-decoding computations continue without interruption falls on Vertiv, Cineca’s infrastructure partner of more than 30 years.
The Vertiv power and cooling systems protecting the Marconi100 and the other supercomputers on the Cineca campus are among the most robust, sophisticated, and reliable infrastructure solutions in the world. Liebert XD, Liebert CRV and Liebert PDX thermal management systems, along with Liebert HPC-M freecooling chillers, maintain the precise environmental conditions needed in the Cineca data centers. The modular Liebert Trinergy Cube uninterruptible power supply (UPS) cleans and conditions the power feeding the facilities and protects against spikes, surges or any unplanned outages that might compromise potentially life-saving research. In fact, after an extensive search for the right UPS for its supercomputer facilities, Cineca determined the Liebert® Trinergy Cube was the only system able to meet all of the organization’s performance requirements, including reliability and remote monitoring services. While availability was the central requisite of the Liebert Trinergy Cube, the system’s Dynamic Online mode enables high operating efficiency up to 99%, saving Cineca thousands of euros per year in energy costs and greatly reducing corresponding carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, compared to other traditional UPS technologies.
Finally, Vertiv provides another layer of protection with preventive monitoring and remote diagnostics through its Vertiv LIFE Services.
“We chose Vertiv LIFE Services as we found it to be a cutting-edge service that showed a number of beneficial features compared to the competition,” said Massimo Alessio Mauri, Head of General and Technical Services at Cineca. “What’s more, after installing Liebert Trinergy Cube, Vertiv LIFE Services proved to be an essential, high-quality tool constantly monitoring the UPS and ensuring the maximum availability and efficiency.”
Vertiv’s work with Cineca predates the pandemic by 30 years, and Cineca’s efforts supporting public health date back at least as long. Cineca has been working with Dompè Farmaceutici for more than 15 years to use supercomputing to accelerate drug development, but the coronavirus has been the central focus since the onset of the pandemic. Cineca and Dompè are collaborators in Exscalate4CoV, a public-private consortium comprised of 18 institutions from seven European countries focused exclusively on COVID-19 treatments and care. To capitalize the expertise acquired via Exscalate4cov, the EU has recently financed a new project named LIGATE which has the goal to create a leading application solution for drug discovery and design using HPC systems up to the exascale level.
Cineca is involved in a number of research projects dealing with new and emerging technologies such as AI, big data, machine and deep learning, digital twins and quantum computing. Supercomputers like the Marconi100 are increasingly being utilized to tackle some of the world’s most challenging issues, including climate change and sustainable agriculture.