Accelerating HPC Adoption Across ASEAN

High performance computing could help the many talented scientists, engineers and businesses in Southeast Asia reach their full potential.

Partnering for growth

“The ASEAN region’s interest in HPC is growing significantly and a number of ASEAN member states are attempting to increase super-compute capabilities and capacities to meet the ever increasing demand,” said Mr. Tay Kheng Tiong, chief executive officer of the Computational Resource Centre (A*CRC) at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). “However, due to various constraints, notably economics and other more pressing priorities of the individual nations, the urgency is not quite there.”

“On the other hand, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam have taken strategic initiatives at the national level to provide the necessary technology and solutions to meet individual countries’ key research domains that require huge computational resources,” Tay said.

A significant step forward for ASEAN’s HPC growth has been increasing international collaboration, namely with Japan and Europe. For example, the Singapore National Supercomputing Centre (NSCC) has tied up with RIKEN’s Center for Computational Science (R-CCS), which manages Fugaku.

These agreements will give scientists in the ASEAN region access to world-class computing infrastructure without the enormous investments required to build leading computing tools.

“Countries like Thailand can make significant advances if scientists can get their hands on these advanced infrastructures, but it takes a lot of experience and backing and people skills to drive them—in Japan, we’ve been doing this for 50 years,” said Professor Satoshi Matsuoka, director of R-CCS.

“We want to help them accelerate and quickly reach the level of supercomputing they deserve without going through all the pains that we experienced. That way, their infrastructure can be on par with the science and technology skills their engineers have,” he noted.

There are several ways scientists in ASEAN can avail themselves of resources in Japan. R-CCS is working with Japan’s Research Organization for Information Science and Technology (RIST), which allocates HPC cycle time in Japan on a competitive basis, to create a new framework specific to foreign research projects, including those from ASEAN, according to Matsuoka.

ASEAN researchers can also collaborate directly with R-CCS as research partners, a process that requires a memorandum of understanding but no competitive application for cycle time.

Meanwhile, R-CCS has been working with counterparts in Singapore to make using Fugaku as easy as possible with the made-in-Japan Grid Data Farm (Gfarm) data file system. It lets users run large volumes of data in HPC applications without having to transfer them from one machine to another.

Better together

A key driver of this collaboration is the ASEAN HPC Taskforce. It was formed in early 2018 to establish a framework of HPC collaboration among ASEAN countries to identify common areas of research. One of the Taskforce’s key recommendations was a shared HPC facility, a massive undertaking that will require not only international collaboration, but investments and human resources.

“So far, the taskforce has managed to work with the RIKEN HPC experts to set up a testbed of shared infrastructure on Fugaku through A*STAR Computational Resource Centre’s memorandum of understanding with RIKEN of Japan,” said Tay, chairman of the taskforce.

“The near-term objective is to establish the inaugural ASEAN shared facility on Fugaku. The taskforce has also initiated a virtual HPC course in collaboration with the Enhanced Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument that will be launched in July 2021.”

That course is the EU-ASEAN High-Performance Computing Virtual School 2021. It’s a five-day virtual seminar in July 2021 in which HPC experts will instruct 60 participants from the ASEAN region in the basics of HPC design and applications in areas such as climate science and COVID-19. Students will be ranked on their performance in practical exercises, and the top ten will receive a digital certificate of excellence and be guaranteed a place at the next EU-ASEAN HPC school in Thailand.

“Grand scientific challenges require concerted efforts beyond the capabilities of a single research group,” added KTH’s Apostolov, one of the school’s coordinators. “It is important that software tools, expertise and resources are shared and exploited effectively in a collaborative manner by the global communities. The EU-ASEAN HPC initiative is a necessary and great step towards knowledge exchange and technology uptake between the regions.”

With growing international collaboration, stronger government backing and greater international recognition of HPC as an engine for national science and technology programs, it’s clear that there’s a bright future for supercomputing in the bloc.

“There are a lot of things in motion,” said Matsuoka, referring to transborder initiatives such as the virtual school, where he will be a keynote speaker. “If ASEAN countries were individual nations, it would be very hard to play the catch-up game. Because they’re doing it together, I think they can advance much quicker.”

This article was first published in the print version of Supercomputing Asia, July 2021.
Click here to subscribe to Asian Scientist Magazine in print.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine. Illustration: Shelly Liew/Asian Scientist Magazine.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Tim Hornyak is a Canadian writer based in Tokyo, Japan, who has worked in journalism for more than 20 years. He has written extensively about travel, food, technology, science, culture and business in Japan, as well as Japanese inventors, roboticists and Nobel Prize-winning scientists. He is the author of Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots and has contributed to several Lonely Planet travel guidebooks. He has lived in Tokyo for more than 15 years.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist