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University joins industry partners to develop ‘first of its kind’ supercomputer

17 January 2017


GW4 Alliance, together with Cray Inc. and the Met Office, has been awarded £3m by EPSRC to deliver a new Tier 2 high performance computing (HPC) service for UK-based scientists.

This unique new service, named ‘Isambard’ after the renowned Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, will provide multiple advanced architectures within the same system in order to enable evaluation and comparison across a diverse range of hardware platforms.

The team will unveil the Isambard project at the Mont-Blanc HPC conference in Barcelona today, in front of an audience of leading academics and organisations including the European Commission.

“This is an exciting time in high performance computing,” said Prof Simon McIntosh-Smith, leader of the project and Professor of High Performance Computing at University of Bristol. “Scientists have a growing choice of potential computer architectures to choose from, including new 64-bit ARM CPUs, graphics processors, and many-core CPUs from Intel. Choosing the best architecture for an application can be a difficult task, so the new Isambard GW4 Tier 2 HPC service aims to provide access to a wide range of the most promising emerging architectures, all using the same software stack..."

"Isambard is a unique system that will enable direct ‘apples-to-apples’ comparisons across architectures, thus enabling UK scientists to better understand which architecture best suits their application.”

Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith Leader of the project and Professor of High Performance Computing at University of Bristol

“The system will provide an excellent development environment for GW4 and the wider UK community”, said Prof Martyn Guest, Director of Advanced Research Computing at Cardiff University. “The current shift in computing architectures provides an exciting opportunity for science, an opportunity that can be informed through an assessment of the impact of architecture on the performance of key application codes..."

“We’re really excited by the prospect of greater performance and science throughput, and providing a service to the community that enables algorithm development and the porting and optimisation of scientific codes from areas such as computational chemistry, materials and engineering”.

Professor Martyn Guest Director of Advanced Research Computing

Professor Roger Whitaker, Dean of Research at Cardiff University’s College of Physical Sciences and Engineering and Professor of Mobile and Biosocial Computing said: "This represents a major breakthrough for the UK..."

"This tier 2 facility will allow researchers to experiment with new architectures and gain a first-hand understanding of complex performance issues."

Professor Roger Whitaker Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Enterprise, Professor of Collective Intelligence

The GW4 Isambard project exemplifies university-industry collaboration and the world-leading capability of the South West England and South East Wales region in digital innovation, in-line with the findings of the recent Science and Innovation Audit.

“At Cray, our mission is to help our customers solve the most demanding technical and scientific problems, and we are constantly evaluating new technologies that can help achieve that,” said Adrian Tate, director of Cray’s EMEA Research Lab. “We are excited to be a part of this important collaboration with GW4 and the Met Office as we work together to explore and evaluate diverse processing technologies within a unified architecture..."

"By building a Centre of Excellence with GW4 and technology partners, we expect deep insights into application efficiency using new processing technologies, and we relish the opportunity to share these insights with the UK scientific community.”

Adrian Tate Director of Cray’s EMEA Research Lab

Paul Selwood, Manager for HPC Optimisation at the Met Office said: “The Met Office is very excited to be involved with this project, which builds on existing collaborations with both Cray and the GW4 Alliance..."

“This system will enable us, in co-operation with our partners, to accelerate insights into how our weather and climate models need to be adapted for these emerging CPU architectures.”

Paul Selwood Manager for HPC Optimisation at the Met Office

Established in 2013, the GW4 Alliance brings together four leading research-intensive universities: Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter. It aims to strengthen the economy across the region through undertaking pioneering research with industry partners.

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Bringing together four of the most research-intensive and innovative universities in the UK; the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.