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ARCCA SRIF3 High Performance Computer Award

ARCCA SRIF-3 Award: Bull

ARCCA are pleased to announce the decision was made to award the SRIF-3 High Performance Computer supplier to Bull, with the contract agreed in December 2007. Once again, ARCCA would like to take this opportunity to thank all the short-listed vendors for the time and effort they invested into Cardiff.

Below we have tried to capture some of the challenges which faced ARCCA (and at times the suppliers!) in the run up to making the decision as well as an overview of the final solution proposed by Bull.

The ARCCA procurement - a very brief introduction

2007 saw the official tendering process to procure a new supercomputer for the University. Funded by a substantial Science Research Infrastructure Funding (SRIF-3) grant from HEFEW, the process saw ARCCA working with several high-quality supercomputer vendors, to ensure the University selected the best supplier. The process culminated in December 2007 with the signing of a contract with Bull to provide the new supercomputer - which will be available to all academic Schools within Cardiff University. This contract will not only provide Cardiff University with state-of-the-art technology but also a valuable partnership founded on the creation of a Bull Centre of Excellence.

The Challenges


During the initial evaluation of the ARCCA tender responses, the processor technology available changed dramatically with the arrival of "Quad Core" technology. While recognizing  it was essential to evaluate this new technology, the team were presented with a challenge as it would not be available until Autumn 2007 - many months down the line of the scheduled process!

Working collaboratively with all the short-listed suppliers, together with other SRIF-3 sites (e.g. Bristol and Birmingham), ARCCA staff collated a comprehensive set of results for the key applications, executing on both single processor units and small cluster systems.

By mapping the performance of real applications to the technology the team were able to make an informed decision on the optimum processor manufacturer - a vital decision in all procurements.


The ARCCA evaluation teams met with each of the short-listed vendors to discuss the final technology design, the partnership opportunities, plus the benchmarking and acceptance tests. With the solutions offered by all short-listed suppliers being in principle similar (being based on Intel or AMD processors with Infiniband or InfiniPath interconnect), the differentiators were the quality, robustness and usability of the entire integrated solutions being proposed.

The key driver, and one emphasized throughout the procurement, was to structure a long-term relationship with the supplier - so a differentiator between the bids was the commitment and partnership opportunities offered to the University.

The Procurement Timeline

Timeline of the ARCCA SRIF-3 Procurement

The Solution

The final solution, endorsed by the ARCCA Working Group, is an Intel-based quad-core solution from Bull, which will create one of the most powerful clusters in UK academia and will be at least 10 times more powerful than any other cluster currently available at the University.

From the start of the procurement, Bull impressed with quality and expertise of their cluster design and technical knowledge. Developing their software in-house as well as manufacturing their own supermicro-based servers (NoveScale R440) provided ARCCA with a "one-stop" shop for all queries downstream. The commitment to ARCCA and Cardiff University became evident in their partnership opportunities, creating a Centre of Excellence at Cardiff.

The decision to go quad-core Intel Xeon rather than AMD Barcelona was further recognised as the correct decision for ARCCA and Cardiff given further subsequent delays in the AMD quad-core roadmap announced in December 2007, with poor yields and unexpected performance issues impacting on availability.


SRIF-3 Bull Solution and Partnership Opportunity

  • Bull develop their own software in-house as well as manufacturing their own supermicro-based servers (NovaScale R440).
  • Bull demonstrated their commitment to ARCCA and Cardiff University in the partnership opportunities they offered, creating a Centre of Excellence at Cardiff.
  • Bull provide a "one-stop" shop for all queries downstream.

Technology-wise, ARCCA and Bull opted for:

  • a 2048 quad-core Intel Xeon 3.0GHz (Harpertown/Seaburg chipset) cluster, with Infiniband Connect-X interconnect (1.2μs latency, 20Gbps bandwidth) over the entire cluster
  • Lustre parallel file system with 38TB Fibre-Channel disk, and an additional 50TB SATA disk storage.
  • In addition to the cluster itself, the solution features four 16-way SMP systems to support those codes with shared-memory requirements.


This solution will provide the highest density (as the R440 are dual motherboard nodes, equivalent to 16 cores per 1U node), with excellent power efficiency. It will provide 24Tflops performance.


"The University is delighted to be working in partnership with Bull on this project that will open up a range of new research frontiers. Research projects in the fields of astrophysics, fluid dynamics, geological simulation, material science, and molecular simulation amongst many others will see major benefits", said Professor Martyn Guest, Director of Advanced Research Computing. "The new supercomputer will enable us to compete on research terms with the best universities in the world, and provide a unique opportunity to deliver on ARCCA's core mission of Research Enablement - our goal is to establish Advanced Research Computing as an invaluable tool for research across all Schools".


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