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Coordination and Support for National Competence Centres on a European Level

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CASTIEL (Coordination and Support for National Competence Centres on a European Level)

Reporting period: 2020-09-01 to 2021-08-31

CASTIEL´s mission is to contribute to the success of the activities of the National Competence Centres (NCCs) as realized in the Research and Innovation Action (RIA) EuroCC. EuroCC targets the aims of the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU) and covers the setup of a network of 33 NCCs by tackling both the maintenance and strengthening of excellence, while identifying and closing gaps due to the diverse levels of maturity between the different nations. Thus, a core consortium in CASTIEL sets the framework of activities that will support the evolution of each single NCC and enable them step by step to get closer together in terms of capabilities and expertise. The greatest challenge hereby is the integration of the single nations into the overall strategy at European level while preserving their autonomy and without interfering with their national strategy. By this, the challenge of maximising existing European HPC knowledge and expertise across Europe is addressed. CASTIEL plays the role of a single and central reference point at European level to coordinate and support the National Competence Centres.

High Performance Computing (HPC) is heavily used in sectors such as automotive, health, climate, engineering, chemistry and biology but also increasingly in tackling societal challenges, such as climate change, migration policies or energy and food supply. The use of HPC helps us to understand natural behaviours or leads to a more efficient use of resources. In addition, by combining HPC with High Performance Data Analytics (HPDA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), we are able to overcome barriers to testing in real-world environments and achieve a much better convergence of assumptions that avoid high costs and risks while constantly reducing time to solution. HPC centres worldwide are collaborating with their user communities in different disciplines and application-areas, and offer well-defined centre-specific mechanisms to support their user needs. The EuroHPC JU is strongly focused on building a European HPC ecosystem comprising exascale supercomputer systems, advanced applications, services and tools, skills and know-how.

In particular, the skills sector is of paramount importance. In this sector there is a variety of maturity levels throughout Europe. Whilst some countries have been investing over a long period a significant amount of money in making their HPC widely usable by industry and academia, some others were simply not able to do so – either due to their economic situation or a late understanding of the significant innovations and benefits, HPC, HPDA, and AI can bring for their citizens, researchers and their industries. Therefore, in CASTIEL the different level of maturity between the different participating states in EuroCC are taken into account, so that skills gaps will be closed while evolving existing mature concepts. CASTIEL's main objectives are therefore the Identification of the available competences in each single nation, support of training potentials of the NCCs, as well as industrial outreach and Business Development. Additionally, NCCs are supported in awareness creation and the establishment of a EuroHPC NCC brand. Hence, CASTIEL acts as a single reference point for the NCCs and provides quick access to knowledge, tools, and expertise.
Whithin the first year, all of CASTIEL's WPs have achieved various milesotnes and provided support to EuroCC's NCCs. CASTIEL's WP2 so far compiled a European Competence Map in HPC, HPDA and AI. This information is regularly updated in the form of the Updated Competence Map (UCM) and can be used as knowledge base for other centres and stakeholders (separate map on EuroCC ACCESS). WP3 in CASTIEL has identified gaps of training activities of the different nations and already conducted a series of workshops and interactions, which enable the NCCs to share best practices and teach NCCs how to further evolve their training portfolio or where to find complementary activities. The mentoring and twinning process has already started and more workshops are planned. Within WP4, a working group was set up and best practices on how to interact with industry (in terms of service provisioning based on HPC, HPDA and AI) and on how to develop business around the core services of an NCC, were shared. Here, too, workshops (for example with the DIH/EDIH network, FF4EuroHPC and FocusCoE) and other interactions (e.g. virtual meetings) were already held so that the less experienced countries get quick access to knowledge and thus receive a boost to improve their business portfolio in cooperation with well-established HPC centres and/or PRACE. WP5 in CASTIEL is responsible for dissemination and communication of capabilities and success stories of NCCs and supported them by laying the base for an exchange of best practices and also by analysing their current approaches. Furthermore, CASTIEL’ WP5 created the EuroHPC NCC brand to ensure a common look and feel of the NCCs and set up the EuroCC Access portal. CASTIEL acts as a central and single point of contact for the NCCs, compiling their available competences, knowledge, expertise and open available results. The results will include not only best practices or success stories, but can also cover available implementations of libraries, application codes etc. To avoid the duplication of efforts, CASTIEL created the EuroCC ACCESS portal (previously known as CASTIEL Gate). This portal acts as a proxy, being a web presence, interlinking with available on-site resources (e.g. an open code repository in each participating nation) and to implement the Competence Map. This enables CASTIEL to act as a single contact point without having to implement everything on its own, but to network, integrate and support current activities such as the PRACE European HPC portal.
The activities of CASTIEL aim to coordinate and support the activities of the NCCs at European level, e.g. by producing a map of competences, organizing events and networking activities between NCCs to exchange expertise and competence in the fields of HPC, HPDA and AI. The support activities in collaboration with industry are intended to promote best practices for building relationships between the NCCs and industry. An enhanced systematic use of innovation results by industrial users is the vision behind that. Identification of other projects and initiatives at European level that may be relevant to the NCCs and the interaction with these other initiatives/projects, e.g. FF4EuroHPC is also performed by CASTIEL. Reducing skill gaps in Europe and exchanging significant technological results is addressed by the assessment of training needs and the resulting training, monitoring and twinning plans. In addition, support for dissemination and awareness raising provides the means to create impact, not only at national level, but also within the European context. CASTIEL sees itself as one building block in the implementation of the EuroHPC strategy and thus brings together those European experts in a core team who have a proven track record in the provision of HPC services for academia, industry and public administration.