dr Anna Christmann (BMWK) symbolically pressed the start button in Berlin: alpha ONE is considered the most powerful commercial AI data Center in Europes-week-sotu-takes-centre-stage-and-media-freedom-law-proposed/">Europe.
On September 16, 2022, what is currently probably the most powerful commercial AI data center in Europe was opened at the GovTech Campus Berlin. The celebrations only took place symbolically in the federal capital, because alpha ONE, as the center is called, is physically located in the Bayreuth area in Bavaria. The private operator behind the high-performance data center is Alpha Layers GTS from Upper Franconia, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Heidelberg AI start-up Aleph Alpha.
Closing the infrastructure gap
dr Anna Christmann from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK) pressed the symbolic start button and in the opening speech acknowledged the purely privately financed initiative, which had managed without public funds, but which now offered the public sector, research institutions and companies an alternative to offers from the USA and China offer. According to her, the new data center will strengthen the industrial location through its own infrastructure, which will also benefit climate protection research and the technology required for it.
The coordinator of German aerospace and representative for the digital economy promoted Germany as a location for investments and start-ups during the celebrations. Other representatives of the federal government, the state of Baden-Württemberg and the mayor of the city of Heidelberg were present at the opening, as well as representatives from industry and research as well as from the authorities. During the event, host Lars Zimmermann from GovTech Campus moderated a panel discussion and announced that the data center will form the infrastructure core of the new “AI for Government” program in the future.
Industrial engineer Jonas Andrulis (company co-founder and CEO Aleph Alpha), whose team built the data center together with partners HPE and NVIDIA, emphasized the European focus of the project. The financing comes entirely from German and European investors. His company is currently the only one in Europe to map the entire AI value chain – from research and development to the operationalization of AI software and the use of the self-built high-performance data center. Its capacities are apparently also to be used for research projects and charitable causes. Accessibility to information in European languages and also for people with broken language skills is one of the goals that can be implemented with your own AI models. It’s all about sovereignty, big and small.
Digitization: “We are learning organisms, not supertankers”
In a discussion panel moderated by Lars Zimmermann, Andrulis brought up the fact that Germany is not the most ideal location for founding a company from an economic point of view with the Lord Mayor of Heidelberg, Prof. Eckart Würzner (independent). Nevertheless, it is important to invest locally. “We need autonomous structures,” says Würzner, because anything else would weaken the location. For example, he would never give up his municipal works. In the current energy crisis, his city is doing comparatively well. Purchasing decisions and tenders will in future increasingly focus on the aspect of the autonomy of municipalities in order to avoid unfavorable dependencies. He would like to act as a “front runner” for other cities.
Würzner is also the deputy president of the German Association of Cities. When it comes to digitization, he can refer to the successful implementation of the AI models developed in Heidelberg in the city administration, which make it easier for him and the employees and the citizens of the city to exchange information. He sees his role as an “enabler” of new technology, and he summed up the status of digitization in German cities and municipalities: “We are learning organisms, not rigid supertankers.”
According to him, Heidelberg plays a pioneering role because the city is well positioned with technology companies, strong research and, among other things, is also home to the largest university hospital with research units in Germany. Overall, it is noticeable that Baden-Württemberg has developed into a kind of “Mecca of AI research” in Germany (original sound Zimmermann), with numerous initiatives such as Cyber Valley Tübingen, the AI focus in Heilbronn and other locations.
Technical details about the data center
The AI data center has 512 NVIDIA A100 GPUs – high-performance graphics cards, each with 80 gigabytes – and should deliver a cluster performance of up to 7,625 petaflops when all 64 available servers are combined and have over 15 petabytes of storage capacity (equivalent to 15,000 terabytes). This puts alpha ONE in 72nd place in the top 500 list of the fastest supercomputers in the world, as was announced at the opening.
In purely mathematical terms, the cluster can perform 7.625 quadrillion arithmetic operations per second – one quadrillion is 1,000 trillion floating-point operations per second, expressed in English as “Floating Point Operations per Second” (FLOPS). The data center is operated exclusively with green electricity from renewable energies. According to their own information, the team led by Managing Director Andy Lippert has laid around 7.5 kilometers of fiber optic cable to get the data center ready to go.
Details on the high-performance system for machine learning from HPE installed in the data center can be found in a Heise report from April. More information on the technical side can be found on the Aleph Alpha website. More about the start-up strategy can be found on the website of the federal government. Heise reported on the opening of the GovTech Campus in Berlin in spring 2022.