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UK researchers benefit from next generation of supercomputers

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The next stage of development of two giant computers, HECToR and BlueGene/Q, marks the next chapter in the UK’s supercomputing programme, according to researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Advanced Computing Facility (ACF).

Capable of delivering complex computer simulations across a range of scientific disciplines, the computers are funded by four of the UK Research Councils: EPSRC, STFC, NERC and BBSRC. The increase in the combined computing capacity and performance has been likened to every person on the planet being able to carry out 250,000 calculations per second simultaneously. This capability will help UK researchers’ work in forecasting the impact of climate change, the fundamental structure of matter, fluctuations in ocean currents, projecting the spread of epidemics, designing new materials, the structure and evolution of the universe and developing new medicinal drugs.

Minister for universities and science, David Willetts launched the new phases at an event jointly hosted by the University of Edinburgh and the UK Research Councils. ‘E-infrastructure is fundamental to modern research and development,’ he said. ‘It helps our world-leading science base achieve breakthroughs across a range of important disciplines and helps industry design and manufacture new products.’ He added that these impressive new supercomputers will drive growth and innovation, and provide UK businesses and researchers with the technology they need to compete successfully on a global scale.

Both the BlueGene/Q  and HECToR facilities have approximately the same computational performance of 800 Teraflops. HECToR has a memory of 90 Terabytes – equivalent to more than 180,000 iPhones – and one Petabyte of disk space for storing data. HECToR Phase 3 has been funded by a £13.9 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which manages the service. The BlueGene/Q design achieves a very high concentration of computing power in a small space and is the most energy efficient supercomputer ever built. Using just the electricity it takes to power a light bulb it can perform the calculations of 100 laptops.

‘We are delighted to host the next generation in supercomputing capability for researchers across the UK,’ said professor Sir Timothy O'Shea, principal of the University of Edinburgh. ‘HECToR and BlueGene/Q will each play a significant role in facilitating ground-breaking research across many areas of science, with tremendous benefits for society. We look forward to working with our partner organisations in delivering this computing capability and to seeing the contribution it will make.’