Technology

Eni in one word: supercomputer

 By Alessandro Di Bacco

Nowadays, to survive in the vast world of electronics, any self-respecting company needs to arm itself all the way and know well ahead how to surf into it. Supercomputers, the Internet of Things, AI, Industry 4.0: welcome to digital…

Global superpowers are trading blows through tech innovation as are big companies. Supercomputers comprising parallel computer arrays, capable of providing enormous processing power through architecture in a different league to that of everyday PCs, are the undisputed heavyweights of large-scale technology. Their speed is measured in ‘flops’ (floating point operations per second) or multiples like petaflops.
Supercomputers are used in a vast range of governmental and industrial fields that require intensive computational processes such as meteorology, molecular analysis, physical simulation, mathematical modelling, cryptanalysis and much more.
Global powers around the world boast of their computers and use them to flaunt their technological progress, with China and the US naturally in leading positions. The US has the Summit (200 petaflops) and China the Sunway TaihuLight (140 petaflops). Not that Europe can’t put up a fight! There’s Piz Daint in Switzerland, ECMWF’s weather-forecasting supercomputers at the Tecnopolo Bologna and Eni’s own HPC4 in Ferrera Erbognone.

The staggering HPC4

The High Performance Computing Layer 4 is capable of 18.6-petaflop peak processing power, which it channels into analysing data from the subsoil. It has its home at the Green Data Center. This futuristic facility in the heart of the Po valley was designed as a great air cooling system, powered in part by a solar-tracking PV system with peak power of 1 MW. This in turn resulted from Eni’s Progetto Italia initiative.
The supercomputer processes the geophysical data and information from seismic prospecting that Eni gathers all over the world. It then generates mathematical models to ensure accurate knowledge of the subsoil and visibility for the fields of hydrocarbons that lie hidden beneath our feet or at the bottom of the sea. All of this is possible thanks to sophisticated proprietary software developed on powerful hardware, built from two 24-core Intel Xeon Skylake processors and two nVidia Tesla P100 GPUs.

digitalization-eni-supercomputer-hpc4
The Green Data Center in Ferrera Erbognone

But we shouldn’t be awed by this technology alone: it owes its existence to the passion and expertise of Eni’s professionals, a marriage of great minds, which program the calculation software, gather and submit the data and interpret the models.
Among them is Carlo Fortini, for example, an engineer with speed on the brain, who designs innovative software to support exploration. Outside the office, he loves to tear up the track on his bike, pushing for ever greater speed. So just like his day job in fact, where he pushes the capacity of the HPC4 in a similar way. Bit rates that would make your head spin lend a shape to an enormous quantity of data that arrives every day from every corner of the world where Eni can be found. That’s what ensures such sensational discoveries as the offshore Zohr field in Egypt.

Carlo Fortini, fast for passion. One of the energy's faces

The great Zohr

The biggest natural gas discovery ever made in the Mediterranean comes courtesy of Eni and its supercomputer. The field has a volume of 11,000 cubic kilometres and its seismic image is made up of 717 million pixels. HPC4 managed to calculate 3% of that in an hour, whereas the wait to complete the task was one day, six hours. This vast underground energy resource is also a treasure trove for Egypt, of course. It represents a shift in Mediterranean energy distribution, with the most low-environmental impact fossil fuel there is – much to the planet’s relief!
This makes Zohr an outstanding example of the potential of technological progress in contributing to the growth of a business and its immense advantages for those who collaborate with it as well.

digitalization-eni-supercomputer-hpc4

Smart exploration

It would be mistake to look only at HPC4, however. Another new technology, artificial intelligence, will aid Eni’s exploration. Eni and IBM have announced the initial results from collaboration in the use of AI. This began a number of years ago with the launch of the Cognitive Discovery platform. The idea is to assist the decision-making process in the initial phases of exploration, in order to generate a significant reduction in risk owing to the geological complexity of the subsoil and corresponding quantity of data gathered. This would then permit more accurate representation of the geological models through identification and verification of plausible alternative scenarios.
Cognitive Discovery will handle this mountain of geological, geophysical and geochemical information and convert it into a Knowledge Graph. This will greatly simplify the daily work of Eni’s explorers as they ceaselessly analyse the data, with the knock-on effect of enhancing the decision-making process for them. The on-premises platform is hosted on an IBM HPC Power 9 cluster, also installed at the Green Data Center.
Far from limiting itself to exploration, the process of digitalization is expanding throughout the company. It is illustrating new paths and changing the face of energy. And that’s just for starters…

READ MORE: More digitalization, less CO2 by Eniday Staff

podcast-digitalizzazione-co2

about the author
Alessandro Di Bacco