From Clara to Rita: the supercomputers that kept all the information of the Treasury and the DNIs of the country

Current supercomputers are on the scale of the petaflops , but that range of operations per second is not necessary to become a useful prediction tool. For many years, different state organizations have used these machines to manage the huge databases of citizens.

Today we wanted to look back and review some of the most important supercomputers of the government of Spain . From the supercomputer used by the Civil Guard in the nineties to the new equipment used by the AEMET to predict the time in the most precise way.

None of them is on the top of the fastest computers and the vast majority have in fact fallen into disuse, but they have fulfilled very important functions and it is interesting to know them to see how administrations have tried to manage our data during the last decades.

In El Escorial, at the headquarters of the General Directorate of Police, the supercomputer Clara, manufactured with an investment of 490 million euros, has been kept since 2000. It is a machine that was created to store the information of the DNI, in addition to police data such as people with backgrounds and the agents’ database. A huge machine stored in a room, says Verne , of 130,000 meters and with room for 200 workers.

It also had two large accumulators, a room full of batteries, three diesel generators of 18 cylinders and a system to link with the Guadarrama repeater in case the lines were cut. But, they say , the computer itself would not occupy more than two 1.8-meter cabinets, it would be of the Sun Microsystems brand and would have about 3 terabytes of storage .

Protected by a system of electrified fences and several security systems , the Clara computer became popular due to a problem with the ionizing radiation detected . Such is the case that several cases of cancer were generated that put the police team in alarm, although they were ultimately due to radioactive emissions of radon gas and not directly to the computer. Nowadays, however, the information contained in the electronic DNIs is managed from a more decentralized server cloud .

Many years before Clara, the Directorate General of the Police created Berta. A supercomputer Siemens H-90 and H100 that occupied 13 cabinets . In that machine the Ministry of the Interior stored the traces of the DNI, the fines of traffic and used the power of this brain for the fight against terrorism . It was the first contact of the Spanish government with the supercomputers but it did not come alone.

The second supercomputer was El Duque de Ahumada, the brain of the Civil Guard and named after its founder. Opened in ’85, this machine had access to Clara’s files, in addition to those of the administration and the BASETER file , a database containing those people suspected of belonging to terrorist groups.

SARA is the acronym for ‘Systems of Applications and Networks for Administrations’. Developed in 2006, it is not exactly a supercomputer but an infrastructure of several computers, an intranet capable of connecting up to 1,200 machines. Among its capabilities was detailed that had up to 144 Megabytes per second of transmission, a storage of 6 terabytes and 6,000 meters of fiber optic.

What was the Sara network used for? Mainly to access all administrative data, from the payment of fees, request grants, ask for certificates or obtain information about working life . A project that became the seed of what would be the 060 network of integrated attention to citizens and the different web portals of the Spanish administration.

The control center of the Computing Department of the Tax Agency. By Pablo Monge.
Another of the great supercomputers of the Spanish government belonged to the Treasury and was named Rita. At the time he was described as ” the most powerful, extensive and sophisticated spy in Spain. ” Located on Santa Magdalena street in Madrid, the machine was capable of crossing thousands of data every day.

More recently in the Department of Computing of the Tax Agency, more than a thousand employees work in a building with 27,000 square meters and what was once a supercomputer has been replaced by server farms. There is also a computer application called Controla , which registers movements around taxpayers.

Although if there is a state agency that needs a supercomputer to operate that is AEMET. In 2005, the State Meteology Agency had a Cray X1 supercomputer , with a peak calculation power of 1,178 GFLOPS . But at the end of 2014 it was replaced by the BULL DLC B700 , a new system with a power of up to 168 Teraflops and seventy-five times more powerful than the previous one.

This new computer, still in use, consists of 338 nodes and stood at the end of 2014 among the 500 most powerful in the world and the third in Spain . Its final price was 3.5 million euros to the company Bull and its numerical weather prediction systems are capable of solving horizontal scales in a range of between 1 and 3 kilometers in up to 36 hours of time.

From here, 4000 predictions go out every year at the state level and 40,000 for the autonomous communities; 30,000 warnings of adverse weather events and 20,000 warnings for Defense, among other predictions. But despite its good performance, it is already planned to start a new center in Gran Canaria by 2020 that would have a new radar and another supercomputer.

Kim Hostler
I studied Communication Sciences because as a child I always wanted to be an announcer and make drawings for advertising campaigns. Life took me down another path and now I am a Communicator who has worked for Nokia, and Motorola. Where now instead of drawing, I take pictures, and instead of talking about my passion.