The University of Bath has powered up its research and innovation capability by launching a new large-scale cloud-only supercomputing infrastructure.

Bath is the first UK university to move all possible HPC (high performance computing) workloads into the cloud.

Named ‘Nimbus’, the high performance cloud computing environment is one of the most advanced systems at any university in the world.

The launch marks a major step forward for Bath’s research capabilities. Hosted in the Microsoft Azure Cloud, Nimbus will rapidly speed up the scientific discovery process and allow researchers to carry out more advanced computationally intensive research at a fraction of the time usually required.

During tests Bath researchers found that Nimbus allows them to complete research, which would typically take three years, in just three months. It demonstrates the potential of the system to exponentially accelerate and intensify research to find important solution to global challenges.

University academics have already used the system to advance research into lifesaving medical devices, new materials for batteries and to optimise important machine learning algorithms.

Professor Ian White, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Bath, said: “Our new Nimbus research computing infrastructure opens up many new possibilities for innovation and represents a major step forward for our research capabilities.

"This access to huge computational power will be an important tool in our armoury as we seek to achieve our ambitious research goals and tackle major societal challenges in areas such as energy, transport, public health and sustainable living.”

Research computing more powerful, flexible and robust

Nimbus is the central pillar in the University’s new portfolio of cloud research computing environments, which is available to all Bath researchers and PhD students.

As well as the new Nimbus supercomputer, this includes cloud HPC teaching clusters and a small onsite HTC (high throughput cluster) which runs software applications that can’t run in the cloud.

Running on the Azure Cloud platform, Nimbus can be scaled to offer computing power as it is needed. The platform includes advanced AI and machine learning capabilities and can be continually updated to add the latest, most advanced tools, without needing to pause ongoing work, all in a secure environment.

In addition to the research benefits, Nimbus has allowed several University of Bath courses that involve computer science and mathematics, to be fully migrated to the cloud – improving students’ programming literacy and a given them better awareness of the cloud HPC environments they will encounter in the world of work.

Bath’s move to full cloud supercomputing comes at a time when the Alan Turing Institute warns that “the current systems available in the UK within Tiers 1, 2 and 3 are either working at maximum capacity, under-resourced, limited in their compute provision specifically to support AI, or a combination of all three.”*

Launch event marks switch-on

Keynote speakers at a launch event on Thursday 22 September included Richard Lawrence, IT Fellow in Supercomputing at The Met Office, and Laura Parry, Senior HPC + AI Specialist at Microsoft.

University colleagues also gave talks on ways in which Nimbus will be used to advance research in areas such as climatology, adult memory impairment, quantum chemistry and nanomaterials.

Nimbus gets its name from a type of dramatic looking, continuously evolving clouds which spread across the sky, and from the crown of light rays surrounding a person in art.