Artificial intelligence and high-performance computing: the University of Montpellier announces the arrival of a new computing and cloud cluster as part of the CPER 2021-2027 programme

At the start of 2024, Philippe Augé, President of the University of Montpellier, announces the imminent arrival of a new computing and cloud cluster, part of which will be specifically dedicated to artificial intelligence (AI). This new digital facility, financed under the State-Region Plan Contract by the State, the Region, the Metropolis and the University of Montpellier to the tune of 2.56 million euros excluding VAT, was chosen in particular for its energy efficiency. Housed at Cines, it will benefit from a very high quality environment, including new 95% warm water cooling techniques.

Digital computing solutions and the exploitation of massive data by Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms are at the heart of current scientific and technological advances. The mesocenter supported by the University of Montpellier within the Montpellier Data Science Institute (ISDM) provides advanced solutions for all scientific communities

Over 10,000 users and more than 400 research laboratories use the ISDM-MESO mesocenter, as well as companies (e.g. BRLI and Predict Services for environmental risk prediction). Designed so that all communities can benefit, it is based on a model that aims to strike the right balance between rationalizing and pooling equipment on the one hand, and customizing environments on the other. In this way, it serves not only the experts who also use national and international equipment, but also non-experts who have very little access to this type of equipment, which can nevertheless considerably accelerate the production of highly valuable results.

Equipment offering the best possible compromise between performance and environmental impact

With this new facility, the University of Montpellier, with its research and training excellence, is strengthening its ability to meet the needs of its researchers, with a particular focus on minimizing environmental impact.

Selected and configured under the direction of Alexandre Dehne Garcia, research engineer at INRAE's DipSO, and acting as the keystone of the ISDM-MESO mesocenter, in tandem with technical director Jean-Luc Oms, research engineer at CNRS (LIRMM - Unité Mixte de Research de l'Université de Montpellier), the future machine, acquired from Lenovo, a recognized player in the HPC world, will contain some 10,000 AMD cores and NVIDIA H100 quadri GPU servers in "full Direct Water Cooling", 2.8 Petabytes of very high-performance WekaIO storage, interconnected with 2 networks at 200Gb/s each.

This solution will build on the recognized 15 Petabyte high quality massive storage solution already present at the mesocenter, and which has been the subject of several partnerships signed with research organizations for massive use by scientific communities (CIRAD, INRAE, Inserm, IRD).

Projects requiring these infrastructures are very much present at Montpellier, both at the heart of mathematical and computer science methods, but also particularly in projects at interfaces mobilizing algorithms and artificial intelligence methods with a strong impact on "Feed, Care, Protect" issues. Positioned in numerous rankings, and notably in second place worldwide in the Shanghai ranking on ecology, the University of Montpellier aims to reconcile scientific excellence with a commitment to reducing environmental impact.

The equipment will be housed at Cines, a national player with three missions (high-performance computing, long-term archiving and hosting) whose skills were recently recognized with the arrival of the Adastra supercomputer, the most powerful in France and ranked3rd worldwide for its low environmental impact in the Green 500.

At the end of 2023, Cines obtained funding from the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research (MESR) in order to reinforce the electrical supply lines and enable a warm water supply (32°C) to the SM1 machine room, where the new equipment will be housed. This will not only make it possible to measure the actual consumption of the equipment, but also considerably reduce the environmental impact by no longer cooling the water at low temperature, as is currently the case.

" The choice of this equipment reflects our projects," emphasizes Philippe Augé, President of the University of Montpellier, " It combines excellence and commitment. We didn't want to buy the biggest or most 'technical' piece of equipment, but one that would enable every scientist to carry out their projects with cutting-edge equipment, while reconciling our desire to reduce our environmental footprint. We are well aware of the responsibility we bear when purchasing very large infrastructures, and have chosen to invest in line with our commitment, even if this has been at the expense of the size of the machine ".

The commitments and involvement of local authorities alongside the University of Montpellier

This order was made possible thanks to the mobilization of all stakeholders to program the first tranche of the 2021-2027 CPER. The Metropole of Montpellier has released its entire contribution (704keuros) for this tranche, which constitutes a commitment - and a commitment - to the project.

The Occitanie Region is contributing 900 keuros to this order. The Region is very much involved alongside the University of Montpellier in all the projects of the Data Center Régional Occitanie (Drocc). This equipment will enable the renewal and reinforcement of the Drocc-Est service offering, of which the ISDM is the operational center, leading the way for all players in the Occitanie Est region (Drocc-Est HPC Computing, Drocc-Est Storage and Drocc-Est Cloud services Research ).

The French government is contributing €606,000 to the 2022 (€300,000) and 2023 (€306,000) CPER programs.

The University of Montpellier has invested 350,000 euros in this order, and is the main contributor to the hosting costs of the mesocenter.