Under Taiwan’s “Tech v Virus 2.0” program, the American biotech company Illumina has partnered with Taiwan Computing Cloud, providing its proprietary coronavirus sequencing service COVIDSeq™ until the end of the year. Illumina is one of the first to have successfully decoded Covid19.
A sudden surge of Covid19 cases is currently impacting Taiwan, raising concerns about its chip supply chains.
High Performance Computing can be used against Covid19
Inspired by the High Performance Computing Consortium which includes Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft, the “Tech v Virus 2.0” project was initiated by Taiwan’s National Center for High-performance Computing (NCHC), Taiwan’s only national supercomputer center and an affiliation of the Ministry of Science and Technology, in the hope of leveraging high-performance computing (HPC) resources to support Covid19 research.
The partnership with Illumina has further empowered the role of HPC in the fight against Covid19. Illumina’s next-generation sequencing technology, in contrast to the traditional Sanger sequencing, is massively parallel, enabling millions of DNA fragments to be sequenced simultaneously. In addition, among other advantages, it is better at detecting rare and novel variants.
With the advent of cloud and high performance computing, Illumina has also released coronavirus software analysis solutions for Covid19 detection on the BaseSpace Sequence Hub powered by AWS. Now, that toolkit is coming to Taiwan’s HPC center as well.
Taiwanese supercomputers joined the Petaflop Club
The NCHC currently operates three supercomputers: Taiwania 1, Taiwania 2 and Taiwania 3.
Taiwania 1 was built by Fujitsu as a general purpose supercomputer in 2018, with an overall performance of 1.3 PFLOPS. It features 750 compute nodes, each of them includes two Intel Xeon Gold 6148 CPUs. However, the second supercomputer, Taiwania 2, is more geared to AI applications, and it was the first supercomputer designed and built by indigenous companies.
Taiwania 2 features 252 compute nodes, each contains 2 Intel Xeon Gold 6154 CPUs and 8 Nvidia Tesla V100 GPUs. While its computing power reaches 9 PFLOPS, it is remarkable for its energy efficiency. In fact, it boasts a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio of 1.2, lower than the global average of 1.58. Consequently, Taiwania 2 was given the 10th place on the Green500 list of the most energy-efficient supercomputers. In addition, it also won the 20th place of the Top500 list of supercomputers. As of November 2020, it was at the 28th place in the ranking.
Remarkably, Taiwania 2 has already been heavily used in medical research, accounting to 40-50 percent of its applications. It has already been used by various Taiwanese research institutes, including Taiwan AI Labs, to conduct genome sequencing and chest radiograph studies in the fight against Covid19.
Finally, Taiwania 3, the latest supercomputer built by Taiwan’s domestic industry, has a computer power of 2.7 PFLOPS. It features 900 compute nodes, each of them contains two Intel Xeon Platinum 8240 CPUs. Taiwania 3 is also included in the “Tech v Virus 2.0” initiative. (For detailed specifications, please click here)
Taiwan’s answer to Amazon Web Services?
The success of Taiwania 2 and its heavy application in healthcare has strengthened Taiwan’s position to develop an indigenous cloud industry that eventually seeks to expand into foreign markets. In fact, given the strategic role of AI and the lack of incentives for the private sector to invest in cloud infrastructure, the Taiwanese government has been actively building a homegrown cloud service that can eventually serve the global market. In short, a counterpart to Amazon Web Services.
Quanta Cloud Technology, the hardware provider of Taiwania 2 and 3, is already one of the largest data center hardware providers worldwide, counting AWS among its customers. ASUS Cloud, the software provider of Taiwania 2, has also been expanding its reach abroad, operating datacenters in the United States and Luxembourg. In 2019 it also provided cloud-computing solutions to Certis Group, a subsidiary of Singapore’s Temasek Holdings.
Based on Taiwania 2, Taiwan Computing Cloud was created in 2019 to serve enterprise and startup needs, following the decision of Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology to broaden the HPC application of NCHC. And in this April, Taiwan Web Service Co. was officially announced, kicking off the race against AWS. Both Quanta Computer Inc. and ASUS have obtained shares in the new entity.
If combined with the country’s great potential in developing an AI-driven healthcare industry, another area that Quanta Computer has been working on, Taiwan’s cloud ambition may be realized sooner than expected.