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New supercomputer puts Bristol at the forefront of research

The BlueCrystal supercomputer

The BlueCrystal supercomputer Dr Ian Stewart

Press release issued: 13 December 2013

One of the fastest and most advanced supercomputing facilities in the UK, capable of over 200 trillion calculations per second, is helping to revolutionise research at the University of Bristol.

A £2 million investment has increased the capability and power of the state-of-the-art BlueCrystal High Performance Computer (HPC) facility, which allows over 650 researchers and students to process vast amounts of complex data at record speeds.

Supercomputers are seen as the ‘third pillar’ of modern research and within the University are used in areas such as climate research, earth science, drug discovery, mathematics, physics, molecular modelling and aerospace engineering.

The University has invested £12 million in its Advanced Computing facilities since 2006, making it one of the country’s leading centres.

The latest BlueCrystal system will be five times as powerful as its predecessor and the upgrade is a result of a collaboration with ClusterVision and Dell.

Dr Ian Stewart, Director of the University’s Advanced Computing Research Centre, said: “This new machine underscores the far-sighted commitment to HPC by the University and reinforces Bristol’s position as one of the leading centres for HPC in the UK. 

“It will provide the robust, scalable and innovative platform required to meet the diverse interests and requirements of our world class research community.  Having a supercomputer of this size contributes significantly to University research income and will play an increasingly important role in teaching.”

Major users include climatologists in the School of Geographical Sciences who are developing models to predict climate change. These models require huge amounts of computing power and disk space, with a typical simulation taking months to run and generating terabytes of model output.

Such models will help to identify where in the world may be at the highest risk of flooding. It also contributes to the ability of climate scientists to monitor ice sheets in the Antarctic.

Another important area of research which will benefit from the HPC’s capabilities is Social and Community Medicine, with the globally recognised Children of the 90s long-term health research project increasingly needing to analyse vast quantities of data collected from the 14,000 mothers enrolled during pregnancy in 1991 and 1992 and their resulting family.

It’s hoped that the new supercomputer will be a resource for the whole city, with opportunities for small businesses and schools to have access.

Furthermore, the University has been working alongside its partners to offer new opportunities to students, plugging the current skills gap in HPC through internships, placements, sponsorship and guest lectures.

ClusterVision has supplied, delivered and installed the Dell based system with other elements sourced from a variety of vendors including Bright Computing, Intel, NVIDIA, Panasas and Allinea.

Mark Allsopp, UK Country Manager for ClusterVision, said: “ClusterVision is proud to build on our long relationship with the University of Bristol’s Advanced Computing Research Centre. We look forward to working with the University to continue exploring how the latest technology in computing, storage and software can be brought together to provide a significant computational and scientific advantage for the University of Bristol and the wider South West region.”

Dr Stephen Wheat, Intel’s General Manager for HPC, said: “Intel is delighted to be chosen as the supplier of choice for the University of Bristol’s new BlueCrystal High Performance Computer.  Bristol and Intel have a strong and positive history on the deployment of Xeon processor based systems to meet Bristol’s extreme computing demands.

“Bristol’s choice to base their next generation computational workhorse on the latest Intel Xeon E5-2600 processor and Intel Xeon Phi co-processor, all interconnected with Intel True Scale fabric, provides a state-of-the-art multi-core and many-core computing platform to extend their positive experience well into the future with Intel Inside.”

David Lecomber, CEO of Allinea Software, said: “The BlueCrystal system provides a platform that will deliver breakthrough results through the development of advanced software models and we are delighted that our software tools and training will be a part of enabling this progress."

Bart Mellenbergh, Director of HPC Solutions in EMEA at Dell, said: “The University of Bristol is an important partner for Dell in the UK high-performance technical computing space. We will work with the University to help their students to better develop their skills in HPC and achieve success.

“Dell will also support the University’s initiatives to make HPC accessible to the mid-market segment of UK industry. We are extremely excited about teaming the University’s students, energy and knowhow and Dell’s technology and market reach to make a positive impact on the UK high-tech economy.”