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N°27  |  June   2008
Business cases

• OnAir (France)
• Ministry of Finance (Egypt)
• Cardiff University (United Kingdom)

GSIT (France)
Orange (Poland)

Making the impossible possible – Cardiff’s new High Performance Computer

Can we work out how the stars formed? How the earth’s crust moves? How to improve treatment for cancer patients? How to date an ancient burial site to within a decade?
Cardiff University’s new High Performance Computer will do all of this – and more.

Supplied by leading international IT firm Bull, the new computer will be one of the most advanced in the UK academic sector, giving a whole new dimension to Cardiff University research. Initial test runs suggest it will be among the top three most powerful computers in British universities, enabling new research projects which previously were either impossible or would have taken too long to run.

The computer installation will be run by a new division, Advanced Research Computing @ Cardiff (ARCCA), set up to supply all University academics with the high-powered technology necessary to tackle today’s big research questions. Already ARCCA is putting its computing power to work in a wide variety of fields. These include:

  • Health. Working with the new Positron Emission Tomography scanner (PET), able to detect cancers at a smaller size than previous technology. A separate project involves the School of Computer Science and Velindre Cancer Centre in developing more accurate radiotherapy plans for cancer patients.
  • Neuroscience. Working with the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre to map the structure and function of our brains.
  • Geosciences. Simulating earth mantle and tectonic plate movements to improve our understanding of earthquakes and volcano eruptions. This international partnership requires a memory cluster of up to 1,000 processors working together.
  • Astrophysics. Recreating the formation of stars and planets, and also taking part in the international hunt for gravitational waves – ripples in space first predicted by Albert Einstein.
  • Archaeology. Working with English Heritage to pinpoint the carbon dating of prehistoric sites.
  • Renewable Energy. Working with engineers to model hydrodynamic processes which can be used for tidal and wave power. The same models can also develop tools for flood forecasting.

The High Performance Computer will support study in all the University’s areas of research, including the arts, humanities and social sciences. The Business School is already working with ARCCA on economic modelling, and the School of English, Communication and Philosophy on linguistics.

The Bull NovaScale® computer is one of the first major systems in a UK university to use Intel® Xeon® Quad-core processors, with four cores to each chip. The system has approximately four terabytes (or four million megabytes) of memory and has just been measured as performing 20 trillion floating point operations a second (20 Teraflops). These results have yet to be officially ratified but would make it the most powerful cluster in a UK University dedicated to in-house research. It was funded with a Science Research Investment Funding (SRIF) grant from the Higher Education Funding Council Wales.

The computer will not only be one of the most powerful at a British University, but also one of the greenest. Based in its own state-of-the-art data centre, it is housed in ten energy efficient water-cooled racks, saving around £30,000 a year on conventional air cooling systems.

Cardiff’s partnership with Bull will continue with the creation of the Cardiff High Performance Computing Centre of Excellence, based around the new computer. The Centre will extend the scope and quality of computer-based research support and open up a range of new research frontiers.

Launching the High Performance Computer at the University yesterday, Welsh Assembly Government First Minister, the Rt Hon Rhodri Morgan AM, said: “The developments in High Performance Computing brought about by ARCCA are already making huge differences in many areas of research. This puts Cardiff University at the forefront of computer-based research techniques in Wales and the UK, as well as internationally.”

Didier Lamouche, Bull Chief Executive Officer, said: “Being involved in this partnership with Cardiff University has enabled us to demonstrate the importance of utilising leading-edge IT resources to pursue ground-breaking research. This new supercomputer will support Cardiff’s growing reputation as one of the most innovative, ambitious and successful universities in the country and internationally. As we share a forward-thinking approach, the University has taken advantage of the advances Bull has made in delivering computing technology. The promise is even more significant enhancements in research that will have a profound impact on the understanding of the world and consequently the everyday lives of people. Bull is proud to be part of this association, which reinforces our commitment to developing leading high performance computing.”

The Vice-Chancellor University of Cardiff, Dr David Grant, said: “The technical specifications of the Bull High Performance Computer are extremely impressive. We expect the research enabled by this computational power will be more impressive still. Computer modelling is becoming vital to our understanding of human biology and the development of new drugs. Simulation will bring major benefits in the sciences and engineering, and open up completely new research fields in the arts, humanities and social sciences. The new Cardiff High Performance Computing Centre of Excellence will keep the University at the forefront of these exciting possibilities in all of its academic disciplines.

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