The Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) is pleased that the Flemish Supercomputer Center (VSC) recently decided that the next Flemish Tier-1 supercomputer will be housed and managed by the VUB, in the Nexus data center on the Green Energy Park site from the VUB in Zellik. The Flemish supercomputer represents an investment of 12 million euros and will be started up in the autumn of 2025. The Nexus data center will be built at the Zellik research park and will house, among other things, the data center of the VUB and the UZ Brussels. It will be the greenest and most efficient data center in Belgium and fits in with the VUB's ambitions to develop the research park into a full-fledged innovation campus in Zellik.
“Supercomputers are of strategic importance for Flanders,” said Jo Brouns, Flemish Minister of Science Policy and Innovation. “It is our Flemish researchers, governments and industry who, thanks to this infrastructure, can continue to work on the major challenges of tomorrow. Complex and time-consuming calculations will be done faster and more efficiently for both climate simulations and training AI models. Supercomputers were also used in the fight against the COVID virus to map the spread of the virus.”
The VSC, which falls under the authority of the Scientific Research Fund - Flanders (FWO), is a collaboration between the five Flemish university associations. The VSC offers the broad Flemish research community (universities, colleges, companies) infrastructure and support to carry out major scientific calculations. This infrastructure consists of supercomputers, a cloud environment, and large-scale data storage capacity. Based on their capacity, supercomputers are divided into two levels: Tier-2, of which each university has one in its own data center, and Tier-1, of which there is only one for the whole of Flanders.
It is the first time that the VUB has been allowed to house and manage this Flemish Tier-1 supercomputer. Its predecessor, Hortense, is currently still housed and managed by Ghent University.
"Such a supercomputer is a collection of a whole series of fast computers that can communicate with each other via super-fast connections,” says Ward Poelmans, department head of Scientific Data and Computer of the VUB. “The difference with the Tier-2 supercomputers is the scale and power. You can make many more calculations in the same time period and perform much more complex data analyzes and simulations, even if those calculations require a large amount of data.”
The Tier-1 supercomputer will be open to all Flemish researchers. To do this, they must submit an application for computing time to the VSC, which will be evaluated by a panel of foreign experts. They assess whether the researchers will use the supercomputer efficiently. The intention is to use the capacity 100 percent and to allow as many projects as there is computing time. Companies and SMEs can also use it. “The supercomputer is a lever to make new scientific insights and innovation possible,” says Poelmans.
The Tier-1 supercomputer has a significant operational cost, mainly the electricity to run the system and the cooling. The new data center at Green Energy Park aims to be as energy-efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. For example, the cooling will use so-called 'free air cooling' for most of the year. Active cooling will only be necessary during warm periods. Solar panels are provided to cover the energy costs of active cooling as much as possible.
Read the full press release at the VUB website (in Dutch) here