Minister launches next generation of supercomputers for UK researchers
13 February 2012
Imagine if every person on the planet were able to carry out 250,000 calculations per second simultaneously.
This is the combined capability of the next stage of development, announced today, of two giant computers, HECToR and BlueGene/Q, based at the University of Edinburgh's Advanced Computing Facility (ACF). It marks the next chapter in the UK's supercomputing programme.
The computers can deliver complex computer simulations across a range of scientific disciplines and are funded by four of the UK research councils, EPSRC, STFC, NERC and BBSRC.
Their increased computing capacity and performance 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.
Launching the new phases today (13 February) at an event jointly hosted by the University of Edinburgh and the UK research councils, Minister for Universities & Science, David Willetts, said, "E-infrastructure is fundamental to modern research and development. It helps our world-leading science base achieve breakthroughs across a range of important disciplines and helps industry design and manufacture new products.
"These impressive new supercomputers will drive growth and innovation. They will provide UK businesses and researchers with the technology they need to compete successfully on a global scale."
Mr Willetts also presented a plaque to the winner of a schools' art competition to produce a design for the front panels of the HECToR computer.
HECToR sporting the winning artwork by Lily Johnson. Click the image to view full size (131KB).
Professor Sir Timothy O'Shea, Principal of the University of Edinburgh, said, "We are delighted to host the next generation in supercomputing capability for researchers across the UK. 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."
Commenting on HECToR Phase 3, Professor David Delpy, Chief Executive of EPSRC, said, "High Performance Computing is vital to supporting the development of science, discovery and new commercial partnerships. As HPC becomes more powerful, and it is possible to model more complex problems in greater detail, the types of simulation that HECToR is capable of become an increasingly valuable tool."
Professor Duncan Wingham, NERC's Chief Executive, said, "HECToR is central to the delivery of NERC's high priority science, particularly in climate, oceanography and the dynamics of the deep interior of the Earth. Access to this new phase of HECToR is essential to maintain the UK's global position in cutting-edge environmental science, and to address key challenges - for example, in contributions to the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report."
Also announced at the launch was the winner of a schools' art competition to design a pictorial representation of the work carried out by HECToR. The winning picture has been placed on the front panels of the computer.
The winner, sixteen-year-old Lily Johnson, from Hethersett Old Hall School near Norwich, said, "I entered the HECToR design competition at the suggestion of my chemistry teacher, Miss Mann. After reading about the capabilities of the supercomputer I wanted to represent these in my design.
"The rain, cloud and sun represent mapping weather patterns and climate change, the volcano the prediction of natural disasters, the syringe and tablets the computer's application in medical advances, the leaf the advancing of understanding complex biological systems and the aeroplane the computer's role in improving engineering of aircraft.
"I put these around a globe as the work of the computer has global benefits. All the pictures are coloured in binary code to show how the technology links them all together.
"I am very honoured that my design has been chosen for the computer, as its work will be influential in so many fields. It is an amazing next technological step in the important issues affecting our lives, such as climate change."
Both the BlueGene/Q and HECToR facilities have approximately the same computational performance, 800 teraflops (800 million million floating-point operations per second). HECToR has a memory of 90 terabytes - equivalent to that of over 180,000 iPhones. It also has one petabyte of disk space for storing data. If your iPhone had that much space it could hold 200 million tracks, and if you started listening to each one of them in 2012, you would still be listening in 3153.
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.
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HECToR (High-End Computing Terascale Resources) is the UK's largest, fastest and most powerful supercomputer. It is capable of over 800 million million calculations a second; that's over 114,000 calculations a second for every man, woman and child on Earth.
The HECToR facility is funded by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), emphasising the breadth of science supported. It has evolved in three phases since 2008. HECToR phase 3 has been funded by a £13·9m EPSRC grant.
HECToR's objectives are:
- to provide a world-class service for UK-based academic research;
- to support the development of innovative computational technologies;
- to encourage industry and commerce to make effective use of high-end computing;
- to work with colleagues in Europe and worldwide.
HECToR phase 3 uses the latest 'Bulldozer' multicore processor architecture from AMD, which theoretically allows twice the performance over the old architecture used in phase 2b. Learning to exploit these new architectures will place the UK at the forefront of scientific software development.
EPSRC is the managing agent for the HECToR service on behalf of Research Councils UK (RCUK).
The facility has been delivered by the HECToR Partners (UoE HPCX Ltd, NAG Ltd, University of Edinburgh, Cray Inc and STFC's Daresbury Laboratory), a consortium of organisations with international standing and many years of experience in this field.
BlueGene/Q is the most energy efficient supercomputer ever built. It can perform the calculation of 100 laptops using the same level of electricity used to power a lightbulb. It has been top of the Green500 ranking since November 2010.
The University of Edinburgh BlueGene/Q computer chip is the result of a unique knowledge transfer and industrial partnership activity with IBM. It is part of the Science & Technology Facilities Council's DiRAC facility that provides specialised advanced HPC capability for some of the world's most complicated scientific problems in astronomy and particle physics.
The machine will allow UK particle physicists to provide precise theoretical input, needed in their search for new physics on high energy particle experiments such as the Large Hadron Collider. It focuses on solving the theory of the strong nuclear force to understand the properties of the bound states of quarks and gluons that form familiar particles like the proton and neutron in the atomic nucleus.
Providing early access to the machine gives the UK the edge in exploiting this new technology for science. This year BlueGene/Q will be upgraded to a 1·26 petaflops combined system (1 petaflop is 1000 teraflops), making it one of the fastest computers in Europe and giving the UK a world-leading simulation capability matching those of our US and Japanese competitors.
HECToR schools' art competition
In summer 2011, to mark the unveiling of the third phase of HECToR, the research councils launched a competition to produce a design for the front of the computer.
The competition was open to 11-16 year olds and the winning entry, from Lily Johnson of Hethersett Old Hall School near Norwich, has been turned into a room-sized picture spanning the front panels of the HECToR supercomputer.
The winner received a contribution towards travel costs to attend the launch ceremony in Edinburgh, as well as a wall plaque for the school to mark their contribution to the understanding of science.
Press release: 02/12
- Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council
- Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council
- Science & Technology Facilities Council
- University of Edinburgh
- EPCC and UoE HPCX Ltd
- Cray Inc
- NAG Ltd
- IBM UK
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