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July 3, 2012

HPC Powers Unite!

Robert Gelber

A pair of higher learning institutions in the UK are combining HPC resources, offering compute capacity to researchers and private entities. Last week, Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge unveiled CORE, which provides HPC-as-a-Service to UK businesses.

This collaboration was born from an expansion of the UK government’s business, innovation and skills e-Infrastructure program. While the CORE project serves larger enterprises, it is also targeting the so-called “missing middle,” the technologically-underserved community of small-to-medium-sized business, with its HPC offerings. Dr. Paul Calleja, CORE director at the University of Cambridge, discussed the program’s business-friendly approach in an official statement (PDF):

CORE demonstrates proven UK leadership in HPC and big data design, implementation and service provision for both SMB and enterprise-scale customers across a range of disciplines including engineering, life sciences, materials modelling and digital media. Simply put, CORE lowers the barriers of uptake for users and organisations new to HPC, removing the necessity for specialist HPC staff and costly in-house IT infrastructure.

In other words, the service provides the advantages of high performance computing while avoiding large operational and capital expenses.

HPC CORE Cambridge Blue

The infrastructure’s 22,000 Intel cores and an NVIDIA GPU cluster deliver 300 teraflops of sustained double-precision performance. DARWIN, the 9,600-core Dell cluster at Cambridge University, is contributing much of that compute power. Ranking 93rd on June’s TOP500 list, the system is capable of 183.38 teraflops. The remaining flops will likely come from Imperial College’s HPC resource pool. CORE also houses over 3 petabytes of storage and the UK’s largest shared memory space.

The service has already seen use from a number of private organizations. Caterham F1 Team, Rolls Royce and Audio Analytic are all tapping the service on a pay-per-use, on-demand basis. In the case of Audio Analytic, the company develops sound-recognition software aimed at assisting security outfits. Their technology can determine various sounds like glass breaking, gunshots, and aggressive behavior. The software is then delivered to CCTV, intercom and video recording manufacturers for security system integration.

Chris Mitchell, CEO and founder of Audio Analytic, said that CORE’s scale and support enabled his company to consider new workloads, while reducing time to market.

It’s clear that the UK government is focused on bolstering industry resources to help create competitive advantage. If the project works, it may deliver a much needed economic boost to a region troubled with financial woes.