Supercomputer boost for science, business

Two new supercomputers that will help scientists to tackle challenges across a range of disciplines, and businesses to develop new technologies, went into service on 3 July.

The 'Emerald' and 'Iridis 3' systems were unveiled at the Science and Technology Facilities Council's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) at an event that also launched the Oxford University-led e-Infrastructure South Consortium that will run both supercomputers.

The supercomputers will, amongst other things, crunch data to help researchers understand diseases such as swine flu, find pulsars as part of the Square Kilometre Array project, model climate change, simulate 3G and 4G communications networks, and develop new tools for processing medical images.

The e-Infrastructure South Consortium comprises the Universities of Oxford, Bristol, and Southampton, and University College London, working with RAL. The Consortium will share access to the facilities, provide an infrastructure for the development of data-driven software, and help to train the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Both supercomputers have been funded by a £3.7 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts MP said: 'These two new supercomputers form part of the Government's £145 million investment in e-infrastructure and will be invaluable assets to business and universities. They will drive growth and innovation, encourage inward investment in the UK and keep us at the very leading edge of science.'

Professor Anne Trefethen of Oxford University said: 'The high set-up costs both in terms of equipment and expertise can be a major barrier to SMEs expanding into newer or bigger markets. This new centre will make it easier for them to step up into the next league. In turn, the supercomputers will help university-led researchers work with industrial partners to develop and test innovative new products and technologies.'

Dr Lesley Thompson, Director of EPSRC's Research Base said: 'High performance computers based within the Consortium's research-intensive universities will enable better training and recruitment of world-class research talent, help develop new research ideas, and speed up the rate at which complex data can be processed.'

Local businesses that will benefit from use of the supercomputers include Numerical Algorithms Group Ltd, Schlumberger Abingdon and InhibOx.

NVIDIA, whose GPUs power Emerald, has also announced that Oxford University has been named a CUDA Centre of Excellence in recognition of its ongoing work in parallel computing research and education using NVIDIA GPUs and the CUDA parallel programming environment.

As a CUDA Center of Excellence, Oxford will use equipment and grants provided by NVIDIA to support a number of research and academic programs across its mathematics, physical and life sciences divisions including work in astrophysics, bioinformatics, and chemistry.

'The CUDA Center of Excellence award reflects Oxford’s strength in scientific computing and also the success of OeRC [Oxford e-Research Centre] in developing and championing new approaches to computing, working with application specialists across the university to bring these benefits to their research,' said Professor Trefethen. 'With NVIDIA's support, we can continue to enhance our undergraduate projects and summer bursaries focused on GPU computing and develop new programs to reach larger numbers of researchers and students.'