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Huygens: Acquisition and Procurement

NCF started the professional European procurement process for the replacement of the current Dutch National Supercomputer in spring 2006. The current system at the time, an SGI Origin 3800/Altix 3700 system known as Teras/Aster, had been in operation since early 2001.

NCF started by gathering input from scientific users about the actual usage, their codes and code developments and their planned future portfolio of subjects and related supercomputer capacity needs. Also the major computing codes used in the Netherlands scientific community were collected for later benchmarking evaluation purposes. Additional input to NCF came from national research themes, set by NWO and other governmental or government related organisations, in as far as computing demands were involved. Additional use cases that were used include water management, computational life sciences and climate research.

NCF worked closely together with leading experts in translating scientific needs into computing and computer architecture requirements and with SARA to establish the day-to-day operational needs that go with such requirements. This resulted in large memory requirements per processor core, and in low-latency interconnects and high IO bandwidth requirements, meant to fit the application profile in an optimal way.

A European procurement process was started, at the end of which NCF had received three very competitive proposals from Bull, IBM and SGI.

The proposals from these supercomputer manufacturers were compared on details relevant to the requirements and practical usability and of course their value for money - the final budget to be decided during negotiations in order to not create articial financial boundaries that could negatively influence their offerings. Within those tests the so called benchmarking suite plays the most important role. It is used to measure and compare the actual performance of the systems for our codes/purposes. A separate Selection Committee has been installed to do this work and to advise the NCF board in the final selection. Experts within the Committee analysed the outcome of the benchmark measurements. Management support at specific points in the process was provided by Conink Consultants.

After extensive comparisons, benchmarking with a large set of real applications and on-site visits at each vendor site, NCF's selection committee advised the NCF board to work with IBM to come to a contract. Successful negotiations between the two parties resulted in a contract that was signed on March 29, 2007.

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