New generation of supercomputer is coming to Leicester

Mark Wilkinson

The University of Leicester is one of only three UK universities selected to host the supercomputers which will facilitate processing data used in industrial R&D and academic research.

The University’s IT services and researchers from across the University, in collaboration with the DiRAC High Performance Computing (HPC) Facility, are involved in the Catalyst UK programme as a joint project with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Arm and SUSE.

In the first phase, new HPC clusters will be installed at the University of Leicester, as well as at the Universities of Bristol and Edinburgh. These supercomputers will use novel Arm computer chips to perform their calculations, and will be some of the largest Arm-based computers in the world when they are installed this summer.

Dr Mark Wilkinson, Director of the  STFC DiRAC HPC Facility, from the Department of Physics & Astronomy, said: “Both industrial R&D and academic research increasingly rely on the ability to process enormous data sets. The data may come from satellites, large telescopes, the Large Hadron Collider, sensors in jet engines, or even twitter feeds. However, data sets are only useful if they can be analysed and explored to provide answers to key science questions or inform the design of new products. The ability of Arm chips to move data efficiently may allow researchers to perform complex calculations in less time, potentially providing a competitive edge for both companies and academic research groups. More work is needed, however, to determine whether these benefits are realised for calculations large enough to be internationally competitive.”

Dr Chris Rudge, Head of Infrastructure in IT Services, said: “After a period of stability in HPC technology, the future is now more uncertain with changes needed to ensure that computational and data processing capability keeps pace with the demands placed on it by researchers. Arm processors are widely used in a wide variety of devices such as mobile phones but have features which have the potential to support high performance computing and data analysis. The goal of the Catalyst UK initiative is to explore the use of Arm technology in real-world HPC applications. This is an exciting opportunity for the IT team to develop knowledge and skills in a new platform, working closely with industry and researchers to develop the hardware and software tools to enable wider adoption.”

The new supercomputer at Leicester will allow researchers to assess the performance of Arm-based systems for calculations across a range of cutting-edge research fields. Users of the DiRAC Facility from across the UK will push the Arm system at Leicester to its limits using simulations of gravitational waves, planet formation and calculations of the masses of fundamental particles. Leicester researchers will also explore the use of the system to build models of the Earth’s atmosphere from satellite data, perform cutting-edge fluid dynamics simulations in engineering and for image processing of data from the latest Electron cryo-Microscopy facilities.

Equally importantly, the new system will further develop the skills of University of Leicester and DiRAC researchers in the use of novel computing hardware. Many of these researchers will later move into industry and contribute to the success of UK SMEs. This will deliver on the Government’s Industrial Strategy goals of addressing the skills gaps in both industry and academia and harnessing the potential of world-class science and innovation across the UK.