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Published on June 9th, 2020 | by Emergent Enterprise

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How Scientists are Using Supercomputers to Combat COVID-19

Emergent Insight:
One of the reasons scientists are so optimistic about developing a vaccine for COVID-19 in record time is because they can now use the immense power of artificial intelligence. That’s where the biggest tech companies in the world have stepped up. Kyle Wiggers has a post at VentureBeat that shares how IBM, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and more are contributing their services and products to support vaccine research, testing and development. AI-fueled computing is providing results in weeks that once took years. Although there are many attention-grabbing headlines that share negative reports about these tech giants, there is good news to be found of their contributions making a big impact and a quicker journey to a safe and effective vaccine.

Original Article:
Photo Above: Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Image Credit: Nvidia)

Alongside the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), IBM announced in March that it would help coordinate an effort to provide hundreds of petaflops of compute to scientists researching the coronavirus. As part of the newly launched COVID-19 High Performance Computing (HPC) Consortium, IBM pledged to assist in evaluating proposals and to provide access to resources for projects that “make the most immediate impact.”

Much work remains, but some of the Consortium’s most prominent members — among them Microsoft, Intel, and Nvidia — claim that progress is being made.

Petaflops of compute

Powerful computers allow researchers to undertake high volumes of calculations in epidemiology, bioinformatics, and molecular modeling, many of which would take months on traditional computing platforms (or years if done by hand). Moreover, because the computers are available in the cloud, they enable teams to collaborate from anywhere in the world.

Insights generated by the experiments can help advance our understanding of key aspects of COVID-19, such as viral-human interaction, viral structure and function, small molecule design, drug repurposing, and patient trajectory and outcomes. “Technology is a critical part of the COVID-19 research going on right now all over the world,” Dell Technologies VP Thierry Pellegrino told VentureBeat. (Dell Technologies is a member of the Consortium.) “It’s crucial to the population of our planet that researchers have the tools to understand, treat, and fight this virus. Researchers around the world are true heroes doing important work under extreme and unfamiliar circumstances, and we couldn’t be prouder to support their efforts.”

Companies and institutions matched 62 projects in the U.S., Germany, India, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Spain, the U.K., and other countries with supercomputers from Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, IBM, and dozens of academic and nonprofit research institutions for free. These are running on over 136,000 nodes containing 5 million processor cores and more than 50,000 graphics cards, which together deliver over 483 petaflops (430 trillion floating-point operations per second) of compute across hardware maintained by the Consortium’s 40 partners.

Microsoft

In addition to supercomputing infrastructure built atop its Azure cloud computing platform, Microsoft is providing researchers with networking and storage resources integrated with workload orchestration through Azure HPC. Concurrent with this is the company’s AI for Health program, which in April allocated $20 million to developments in five key areas — data and insights, treatment and diagnostics, allocation of resources, dissemination of accurate information, and scientific research — with the goal of bolstering work related to COVID-19.

As a part of its work with the Consortium, Microsoft says it’s providing teams access to its scientists spanning AI, HPC, quantum computing, and other areas of computer science at Microsoft Research and elsewhere. Much of these researchers’ work to date has entailed basic scientific discovery about COVID-19 itself and how it interacts with the human host, including the design of therapeutics, through:

  • Research simulations.
  • Molecular dynamics modeling.
  • 3D mapping of virus protein structures.
  • Compound screening to see if existing drug molecules are able to inhibit cellular entry of the virus.

Microsoft says each organization it collaborates with receives a full Azure HPC environment, including Azure CycleCloud with the Slurm workload manager, best-fit Azure Virtual Machines, and storage. These are configured to scale on-demand and meet compute as necessary, and they’re tailored to the specific research needs of the grantee.

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