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Blue Ice supercomputer goes green

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Swansea University has launched a centre for climate research which is responsible for research into fast flowing glaciers and ice streams as well as glacier instabilities. 

Underpinning this research, the centre houses a new IBM supercomputer, Blue Ice, which is one of the most powerful supercomputers in Wales, and the most energy-efficient. Surrounded by a visualisation suite, this surprisingly small supercomputer is the latest addition to the family of blue supercomputers in South West Wales.

Blue Ice sits within the newly unveiled Mike Barnsley Centre for Climate Research, named in recognition of former Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Mike Barnsley’s contribution to both the University and the field of environmental science.

The supercomputer will investigate a host of factors affecting climate change. For example, as Professor of Glaciology at Swansea University's School of the Environment and Society, Professor Murray's primary areas of interest include fast flowing glaciers and ice streams as well as glacier instabilities. In particular, her work in these areas aims to measure past and predict future contribution from glaciers and ice sheets to sea-level rise and, in turn, the repercussions that such sea-level rise will have. As one of the most rapidly changing parts of the cryosphere, and with many glaciers experiencing rapid thinning, time is of the essence in discovering the effects of these drastic changes.

And this is where Blue Ice can help. The main system has 640 cores and a peak performance of 6.8 Teraflops, while the neighbouring cell-based development platform provides an additional 3.6 Teraflops of performance. As one of the most powerful supercomputers in Wales, Blue Ice will allow its users to perform calculations in a fraction of the time needed by a regular computer.

Add to this tremendous performance the power of five DCV (Deep Computing Visualisation) workstations and four CUBE displays and users will also be able to convert any scientific data generated by Blue Ice into meaningful images, leading to better interpretation of the results. This visualisation aspect, together with implementation and ongoing support of Blue Ice, is the result of a collaboration with OCF, a UK-based HPC integrator.

The icing on the cake, however, is that the entire operation has also been specifically designed to be energy efficient. Blue Ice is housed in a brand new green data centre and boasts energy efficient CPUs, which provide the high performance computing within a small physical footprint.