Research

GW4 joins industry partners to develop ‘first of its kind’ supercomputer

GW4 Alliance, together with Cray Inc. and the Met Office, has been awarded £3m by EPSRC to deliver a new Tier 2 high performance computing (HPC) service for UK-based scientists. This unique new service, named ‘Isambard’ after the renowned Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, will provide multiple advanced architectures within the same system in order to enable evaluation and comparison across a diverse range of hardware platforms.

The team will unveil the Isambard project at the Mont-Blanc HPC conference in Barcelona today (Jan 17 2017), in front of an audience of leading academics and organisations including the European Commission.

Prof. James Davenport. Credit Leo Johnson

Established in 2013, the GW4 Alliance brings together four leading research-intensive universities: Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter. It aims to strengthen the economy across the region through undertaking pioneering research with industry partners.

Professor James Davenport, University of Bath’s technical lead on the project, said: “Bath, where the South West Universities Regional Computer Centre was founded forty years ago, is delighted to be part of this initiative. Now, as then, by teaming up the universities can deliver a service that none could deliver individually. I recently visited a sandwich student working at ARM and saw first-hand the exciting developments that ARM are bringing to the world of scientific computing, so I am very excited that we will have the chance to explore these developments directly.”

“This is an exciting time in high performance computing,” said Prof Simon McIntosh-Smith, leader of the project and Professor of High Performance Computing at the University of Bristol. “Scientists have a growing choice of potential computer architectures to choose from, including new 64-bit ARM CPUs, graphics processors, and many-core CPUs from Intel. Choosing the best architecture for an application can be a difficult task, so the new Isambard GW4 Tier 2 HPC service aims to provide access to a wide range of the most promising emerging architectures, all using the same software stack. Isambard is a unique system that will enable direct ‘apples-to-apples’ comparisons across architectures, thus enabling UK scientists to better understand which architecture best suits their application.”

Professor Nick Talbot, Chair of the Board for the GW4 Alliance and Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Impact at the University of Exeter, said: "We are delighted to collaborate with respected industry partners Cray and the Met Office on this multi-million pound project, which will benefit scientists across the UK. This is a clear example of how GW4 can harness the strengths of its universities and industrial partners across the region to produce pioneering solutions to some of our greatest global challenges."

The GW4 Isambard project exemplifies university-industry collaboration and the world-leading capability of the South West England and South East Wales region in digital innovation, in-line with the findings of the recent Science and Innovation Audit.

“At Cray, our mission is to help our customers solve the most demanding technical and scientific problems, and we are constantly evaluating new technologies that can help achieve that,” said Adrian Tate, director of Cray’s EMEA Research Lab. “We are excited to be a part of this important collaboration with GW4 and the Met Office as we work together to explore and evaluate diverse processing technologies within a unified architecture. By building a Centre of Excellence with GW4 and technology partners, we expect deep insights into application efficiency using new processing technologies, and we relish the opportunity to share these insights with the UK scientific community.”

Paul Selwood, Manager for HPC Optimisation at the Met Office said: “The Met Office is very excited to be involved with this project, which builds on existing collaborations with both Cray and the GW4 Alliance. This system will enable us, in co-operation with our partners, to accelerate insights into how our weather and climate models need to be adapted for these emerging CPU architectures.”

ENDS

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