Cardiff University has opened a £2.9m high performance computer centre to increase its scientific research into projects previously considered too difficult or time-consuming.
The new division, known as Advanced Research Computing @ Cardiff (ARCCA) has been established to deliver high-end resources and support to research staff in all academic fields and has been installed by Bull Information Systems.
The partnership with Bull and the University includes the establishment of the Cardiff HPC Centre of Excellence. The centre will extend the scope and quality of computer-based research support and open up a range of new research directions.
The Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, Dr David Grant, said: ‘The technical specifications of the Bull High Performance Computer are extremely impressive. We expect the research enabled by this computational power will be more impressive still. Computer modelling is becoming vital to our understanding of human biology and the development of new drugs. Simulation will bring major benefits in the sciences and engineering, and open up completely new research fields in the arts, humanities and social sciences. The new Cardiff High Performance Computing Centre of Excellence will keep the University at the forefront of these exciting possibilities in all of its academic disciplines.’
The computer will be run by ARCCA, which was set up to supply all university academics with the high-powered technology necessary to tackle today’s big research questions. Already ARCCA is putting its computing power to work in a wide variety of fields. These include:
Health: Working with the new Positron Emission Tomography scanner (PET), able to detect cancers at a smaller size than previous technology. A separate project involves the School of Computer Science and Velindre Cancer Centre in developing more accurate radiotherapy plans for cancer patients.
Neuroscience: Working with the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre to map the structure and function of our brains.
Geosciences: Simulating earth mantle and tectonic plate movements to improve our understanding of earthquakes and volcano eruptions.
Astrophysics: Recreating the formation of stars and planets, and taking part in the international hunt for gravitational waves.
Archaeology: Working with English Heritage to pinpoint the carbon dating of prehistoric sites.
Renewable Energy: Working with engineers to model hydrodynamic processes which can be used for tidal and wave power.
Professor Martyn Guest, director of ARCCA, said: ‘ARCCA exists to deliver high-end computing service, resources and support to all researchers in all disciplines and schools. The new high performance computer will allow a wide variety of studies previously dismissed as impossible or impractical. We look forward to talking to academics from all fields about how ARCCA can help them achieve their research objectives.’
The high performance computer will support study in all areas of research, including the arts, humanities and social sciences. Cardiff Business School is already working with ARCCA on economic modelling, and the School of English, Communication and Philosophy on linguistics.
The computer is one of the first major systems in a UK university to use Intel Xeon Quad-core processors, with four cores to each chip. The system has approximately four terabytes (or four million megabytes) of memory and has just been measured as performing 20 trillion floating point operations a second (20 Teraflops). These results have yet to be officially ratified, but would make it the most powerful cluster in a UK university dedicated to in-house research. It was funded with a Science Research Investment Funding (SRIF) grant from the Higher Education Funding Council Wales
The computer will not only be one of the most powerful at a British University, but also one of the greenest. Based in its own data centre, it is housed in 10 energy efficient water-cooled racks, saving around £30,000 a year on conventional air cooling systems.
Cardiff’s partnership with Bull will continue with the creation of the Cardiff High Performance Computing Centre of Excellence, based around the new computer. The centre will extend the scope and quality of computer-based research support and open up a range of new research frontiers.
Launching the high performance computer at the university, Welsh Assembly Government First Minister, Rhodri Morgan said: ‘The developments in high performance computing brought about by ARCCA are already making huge differences in many areas of research. This puts Cardiff University at the forefront of computer-based research techniques in Wales and the UK, as well as internationally.’
The opening of the centre took place on 4 June , and was jointly hosted by ARCCA and Bull. It showcased the system, its development, and the future vision of the partnership. Guests and speakers included key figures from ARCCA, Bull, Comtec, Intel and APC.