High-speed computing advances innovation and boosts competitiveness across sectors in Singapore, propelling the nation's technological advancement and economic growth. Telecom Review connects with Tan Tin Wee, chief executive, National Supercomputing Centre (NSCC), to learn about Singapore’s supercomputing landscape and initiatives to impact sectors.
High-performance computing is important to growing Singapore’s digital economy. What is the supercomputing landscape like in Singapore, and how do we compare with other countries?
Singapore recognizes the importance of high-performance computing (HPC) in driving its digital economy and has made significant efforts to develop its supercomputing landscape. Since 1988, when Singapore’s first supercomputer was set up, to the National Supercomputing Research Centre (NSRC) in the 1990s, which merged in 1998 to become today’s Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC), the HPC landscape has evolved significantly.
After half a decade of preparation, a petascale initiative led by A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research), Singapore’s premier publicly funded statutory board hosting a wide range of research institutes and centers, led to a significant investment in 2015 to re-establish a national supercomputing facility. A*STAR got together with the National University of Singapore (NUS, Asia’s top research university), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) to set up the National Supercomputing Centre (NSCC) to bring Singapore into the petascale supercomputing era by 2016, when we ranked 93rd in the world Top500 rankings.
By 2019, the government announced earmarking $200 million for upgrading the supercomputing infrastructure in NSCC for enhancing Singapore’s research capabilities. Funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) of Singapore as a National Research Infrastructure (NRI) to support its five-yearly Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) Masterplans, NSCC currently operates two major petascale supercomputers, ASPIRE1 and ASPIRE2A, and a few other edge supercomputers interconnected by the national research network, SingAREN, providing the high-speed global connectivity to partner top supercomputer centers overseas. NSCC supports a wide range of researchers by the thousands, from research, industry and government initiatives, in providing state-of-the-art HPC resources. Recently, in 2022, besides classical high-performance computing, the NSCC was also tasked to provide for quantum computing within its charter.
In the area of HPC research, Singapore’s primary research organization, which uses HPC for leadership in computational modeling, simulation and AI to solve major scientific, industrial and societal challenges, is A*STAR’s Institute of High-Performance Computing (IHPC). With over 300 researchers, IHPC is designed to facilitate various scientific and engineering simulations, data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) research.
While Singapore today may not have supercomputers that rank among the top 100 in the world, it is important to consider the context of the country's size and population. Singapore's focus is on creating a conducive ecosystem for HPC research and application, as well as promoting collaborations with global partners. It is also worth noting that supercomputing power is just one aspect of a comprehensive digital economy strategy, which includes factors like talent, infrastructure and industry collaboration.
When comparing Singapore's supercomputing landscape with other countries, it is essential to consider regional variations and the specific objectives of each nation. Countries such as the US, China, Japan, and Germany have traditionally invested heavily in supercomputing infrastructure and often possess some of the world's most powerful systems. However, Singapore's approach prioritizes research, partnerships, and fostering a supportive environment for innovation and digital transformation.
NSCC has established collaborations with international supercomputing centers to enhance its HPC capabilities. For instance, NSCC collaborates with Japan's RIKEN Center for Computational Science, which operates the Fugaku supercomputer, one of the world's most powerful systems, to provide supercomputing resources to Singapore researchers. Singapore hosts the annual Supercomputing Asia conference (SCA’23) with co-organizers from Australia, Japan and Thailand and recently inaugurated the Alliance of Supercomputing Centres (ASC) to foster collaboration and explore sharing of resources.
NSCC is mandated to operate Singapore's key supercomputing systems (currently ASPIRE 1 and ASPIRE 2A) to provide high-performance computing resources that power advanced research in almost all areas of science, including genetics, biomedicine, weather and climate monitoring, AI research, advanced manufacturing and quantum computing. The resources are made accessible to all researchers from Singapore research institutes, universities, educational institutions, government agencies and companies.
HPC has many use cases across a diversity of domains in Singapore's digital economy, which is growing and developing at an accelerated pace. NSCC supports such research with our HPC resources, and examples of use cases in Singapore's digital economy include financial services, AI and ML for Smart City Solutions, genome sequencing, weather forecasting, autonomous vehicles, as well as engineering and manufacturing.
Compared to other countries, Singapore is a relatively small player in the global HPC landscape. The newest ASPIRE 2A is ranked in the global TOP500 list of the most powerful supercomputers - #199 (GPU partition) and #275 (CPU partition), respectively. This compares to countries like the United States, the EU, Japan and China, which have multiple systems ranked in the top 10. In ASEAN, Singapore HPC is one of the most established in the region.
Rather than a focus on rankings, Singapore's investments in HPC infrastructure and expertise are focused on building systems that meet the specific needs of Singapore's scientific community, including supporting research and development in key areas of the economy and society.
What role does NSCC play in supporting the development and deployment of 5G and IoT technologies in Singapore?
The NSCC in Singapore plays a significant role in supporting the development and deployment of 5G and IoT technologies in the country. Here are some key aspects of NSCC's involvement:
- Research and Development: NSCC actively supports industry, academia and government agencies in conducting research and development activities related to 5G and IoT. This includes exploring advanced computing techniques, data analytics and AI to optimize the performance, security and scalability of these technologies.
- Testing and Simulation: NSCC provides high-performance computing resources and simulation capabilities to support research activities such as the design and testing of 5G and IoT technologies. These resources enable researchers and industry partners to model and simulate various scenarios, such as network performance, security vulnerabilities and system optimization, before actual deployment.
- Data Analytics and AI: With the massive influx of data generated by IoT devices and 5G networks, NSCC's expertise in data analytics and AI becomes crucial. NSCC facilitates the research community in the development of advanced algorithms and machine learning models that can effectively process and analyze large-scale data, enabling actionable insights and intelligent decision-making in the context of 5G and IoT.
- Collaborations and Partnerships: NSCC actively collaborates with industry players, technology providers and research institutions to foster innovation and drive the adoption of 5G and IoT technologies in Singapore. These collaborations involve joint projects, knowledge sharing and co-creation of solutions to address specific challenges and opportunities in the deployment and utilization of these technologies. In particular, NSCC itself uses IoT technologies in its operations. Our ASPIRE1 Supercomputer at Fusionopolis, A*STAR, contains over 6,500 sensors monitoring parameters such as temperature, humidity, etc., and the data gathered is fed into a Data Centre Information Management system (DCIM) and a BMS (Building Management System), as well as back into the supercomputer, where we carry out data analytics. With the analytics, we have improved our DC energy efficiency from PUE 1.4 down to 1.08 at its best. We have identified hotspots, rectified server implementations, reduced carbon footprint and much more using our IoT sensor network within the supercomputer DC.
By providing research infrastructure, computational resources, expertise and collaborative opportunities, NSCC contributes to the development of 5G and IoT technologies in Singapore. Its efforts help accelerate innovation, address technical challenges and facilitate the adoption of these transformative technologies across various sectors of the economy, such as healthcare, transportation, logistics and smart city initiatives.
How can NSCC help the public and private sectors leverage supercomputing and data analytics in an increasingly digitalized environment?
NSCC has a comprehensive outreach program and business development strategy to introduce the latest advances in HPC to the public and private sectors alike. For HPC services, this is currently limited to research activities in these organizations. For outreach events, we run many programs year-round. Training courses on HPC are coordinated for our users, as is outreach in collaboration with our stakeholders to others further afield. This typically culminates in such public and private sector organizations signing up for access to our supercomputers or establishing collaborations with the NSCC to launch initiatives. For example, with the SingHealth cluster, we have formulated a multimillion-dollar HPC edge supercomputer for them, which recently won an OpenGov award at the 8th Annual Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum.
This is part of our enablement and capability building in the use of HPC to advance research and innovation in instances such as AI, large language models and genomics. Much of our outreach, manpower development and training is carried out in partnership with our stakeholders, and this includes upskilling students and professionals with Polytechnics, ITEs and associations (e.g., SP, RP, ITE, AI SG, IES, AMBIS, etc.). Our educational efforts and talent building, being typically collaborative arrangements, include the Supercomputing Asia (SCA) conference series with Australia, Japan and Thailand, the APAC HPC-AI competition with the international HPC-AI Advisory Council, the HPC Innovation Challenge, the NTU Team - International HPC Student Cluster, etc. We are proud to note that, through our years of sponsorship of students at NTU, they have now reached the top 4 in the world of HPC competitions.
How does the NSCC ensure heightened security and privacy of data in a world with growing and sophisticated cyberthreats? What are some other challenges in the field of supercomputing?
One of the ways that NSCC does this is by adopting new technologies to strengthen and secure HPC systems and networks. An example includes exploring Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) encryption technology to protect data transfers and HPC networks. NSCC is a partner in initiatives like the National Quantum Safe Network.
Can you share new initiatives or plans for NSCC and your vision for supercomputing in Singapore?
NSCC’s vision is the democratizing of HPC access for all researchers in Singapore to help them accelerate and enhance their research outcomes, enabling them to deepen the quality of their research and solve scientific and engineering problems not possible without supercomputers. We will focus on national initiatives and projects with significant economic impact as a priority.
In the process of doing so, we have to evolve the entire HPC ecosystem of Singapore. NSCC’s roadmap will include building at least three Tier 2 HPC centers in addition to a national-level Tier 1 HPC center. These DCs will have green tropical features, such as our award-winning ASPIRE1 Data Centre at level 17 of the Fusionopolis building, the highest green supercomputer DC in the world, and our award-winning Tropical Supercomputing DC at the Innovation 4.0 building at NUS, which features ambient-air air-con-less DC. Besides these, we will expand our Tier 3 HPC centers, starting with the Edge Supercomputers at NUHS and SingHealth.
As we continue to upgrade the capability of our systems to match the increasing HPC needs of our researchers, NSCC’s users will be able to tap into exascale supercomputers such as Fugaku in Japan’s RIKEN-CCS, Lumi in Finland and petascale systems in Australia using the advanced high-speed links provided by SINGAREN, the Singapore Advanced Research and Education Network. We will expand our offering of HPC to include AI platforms as well as Quantum Computing. The security of our DC-to-DC links will be enhanced with production QKDnet technologies. With the advent of ChatGPT, we will expand our support for large language models (LLMs), Foundation Models (FMs) and LDMs. We will drive the buy-in from our stakeholders through a national HPC road mapping exercise by incorporating inputs and feedback from various sectors in research, academia and industry. We will work with academic institutions to develop HPC, AI and Quantum talent and build the basis for a brand new rich and diverse talent pool that can support the future economic competitiveness of Singapore and develop a Smarter Nation framework empowered and accelerated by supercomputing.