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£3.7m EPSRC funding for High Performance Computing

26 March 2012

UCL will play a key role in a new £3.

Legion Supercomputer 7million regional centre for supercomputing, following an award from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The funding, awarded following a successful collaborative bid with the Universities of Oxford, Bristol and Southampton, will be used to institute and operate a Centre of Innovation for the application of High Performance Computing (HPC) methods and technologies.

The £3.7m grant marks the first significant activity for the e-Infrastructure South Consortium formed by the four universities in 2011. The Consortium aims to explore and exploit opportunities for the sharing of research e-infrastructure (hardware platforms, applications software, user support services and skills) across the four institutions.

In addition to sharing resources, it is hoped that the combination of these research intensive institutions will foster an environment of collaboration, where computationally enabled research projects can be co-developed and delivered. As such, the EPSRC award marks the first step on a much more ambitious journey for the e-Infrastructure South Consortium.

Professor David Price, UCL Vice-Provost (Research), said: "This is an initiative of vital importance as we work towards the development of a world-class supercomputing research infrastructure for the UK. The value of the collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach is at the heart of this important award. Our combined institutional resources will allow us all to do more and will give UCL researchers access to facilities that complement institutional provision. The establishment of the Consortium and the EPSRC award that has followed show that high performance computing is firmly embedded in UCL's research strategy."

Our combined institutional resources will allow us all to do more and will give UCL researchers access to facilities that complement institutional provision.

Professor David Price

Simulation and computation enabled by High Performance Computing, are globally held as forming the 'third pillar' of modern research practice in both academic and industrial research endeavours. Harnessing advances in the application of HPC methods to aid discovery and drive innovation will prove critical in securing the continued international competitiveness of the UK. This has been recognised by the development and implementation of a strategy for e-infrastructures at both the regional and national level by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and has been funded with an additional £165m in the 2011/12 financial year.

The EPSRC's call for proposals to create regional centres for HPC is directly aligned to this strategy and recognises the capabilities available within the e-Infrastructure South Consortium, and other successful consortia to make a significant contribution to the National growth agenda. The Centre of Innovation will draw upon the knowledge and expertise available to it across the Consortium to explore and exploit opportunities for the application of HPC to scientific and industrial research challenges and directly contribute to this mission.

Clare Gryce, Research Computing Services Manager in UCL Information Services Division, said: "The additional capabilities offered by these new facilities will enable our researchers to carry out research that is not generally possible using even the most powerful University HPC services such as UCL's Legion service, delivering new research outcomes and accelerating research programmes. They will also serve as a 'stepping stone' to the national supercomputing facility, HECToR and its successor, ARCHER, by enabling our researchers to develop and demonstrate the scalability of their applications, and 'roadtest' their proposals. " 

Professor Richard Catlow, Dean of the UCL Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences, said: "We are looking forward to using the new facilities to address specific research challenges in advanced materials including those used in emerging energy technologies, healthcare and catalysis for environmental protection. The new facility will help to keep researchers in these and related fields in the collaborating institutions at the international cutting edge."

Professor Angelos Michaelides, Director of the Tomas Young Centre at UCL, added: "There is a large group of world-class researchers at UCL who are looking forward to using the new facilities to address a broad range of problems in computational materials science, chemistry, and physics. The new computational capabilities will help greatly in their efforts to better understand important issues such as the function of catalysts, the behaviour of materials under extreme conditions, or the structure and function of materials of environmental relevance. "

The award will allow two significant HPC systems to be procured by the Centre; a 12,000 core Intel Westmere based general architecture/x86 based system (supplied by OCF and IBM) to be located at the University of Southampton and a large novel architecture/GPU system based on 372 NVIDIA Tesla M2090 processors which will be the second largest system of its type in Europe when it enters operation.

The GPU system will be hosted and operated by STFC's e-Science division based at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory who will be a strategic delivery partner for the Centre of Innovation; the system itself will be provided by HP, Gnodal and Panasas. With a combined value of £2.8m the systems are projected to be installed by the end of March 2012 and available to consortium users and project partners soon after. The remainder of the £3.7m award will be used to support and run the facilities for the first year of operations.

Images: The 'Legion' Supercomputer at UCL (Credit: Tony Slade, UCL Learning & Media Services)


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