Universities deliver HPC for business via the cloud

The University of Cambridge and Imperial College are pooling their resources to create a high-performance computing (HPC) service that will offer some of the UK’s fastest computer resources to industry through the cloud

The University of Cambridge and Imperial College are pooling their resources to create a high-performance computing (HPC) service that will offer some of the UK’s fastest computer resources to industry through the cloud.

The service, dubbed CORE, will give businesses access to some of the most powerful IT systems in the UK, including the largest Intel high-performance cluster, the UK’s largest single shared memory pool, and one of the UK’s largest high-performance graphics chip clusters.

It will offer businesses a range of consulting packages to help them get the most from high-performance computing. Options range from handholding for small companies, to advice to businesses that want to buy their own supercomputer.

“CORE is completely unique in terms of its scale and breadth of knowledge,” said Peter Haynes, CORE director at Imperial College London.

CORE will pool the supercomputer resources of both universities to offer 22,000 Intel processor cores, and three petabytes of memory, to deliver 300 teraflops of computing power.

Faster data processing

The computing resources at CORE have been used by companies including Rolls-Royce for turbine design and the Caterham F1 team for designing racing cars.

Audio Analytic, a Cambridge startup, plans to use the CORE computing resources to analyse sounds, such as gun shots and breaking glass, to develop automatic recognition technology for the security industry.

Chris Mitchell, CEO and founder of Audio Analytic, said CORE supercomputers were allowing the company to process a century's worth of data in a couple of hours.

CORE has provided the company with a “step change” in computer capacity, and has reduced its time to market, he said.

CORE is completely unique in terms of its scale and breadth of knowledge

Peter Haynes, CORE director, Imperial College London

Teaming industry with academia

Opening up CORE to industry will provide additional funding to develop the HPC centres at Cambridge and Imperial, which will also play a key role in academic research.

“It will create a virtuous circle," said Paul Calleja, CORE director at the University of Cambridge.

The combined service will help the universities address a serious shortage of IT professionals with skills in high-performance computing, allowing the universities to share specialists between them.

“The human resources are more scarce than capital resources,” said Calleja.

CORE will be ready to offer businesses services from day one, he said, and unlike many university services, it has a strong customer service ethos.

Businesses will be able to run their own software, with support from CORE specialists, or run ready-made packages in engineering, life sciences, materials modelling and digital media.

Companies can either send data to the facility through the internet, or by courier if large volumes of data are involved, said Calleja.

For example, in a project to model racing car design, Caterham F1 opted to send data to Cambridge in one hour by courier, rather than spending seven hours uploading it via the internet.

On-site HPC facilities

CORE will offer facilities on site to allow customers to analyse data and visualisation services that will allow the results to be sent over the internet in graphical form.

“Some of these applications can produce hundreds of gigabytes of data. That is tricky, which is why we  are providing facilities in situ,” said Calleja.

The universities are investing £2.5m a year in their HPC centres.

Over the past four years, Imperial has spent more than £5m on capital equipment to develop high-performance computing.


Photo reproduced with permission of CORE HPC

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