High performance computing is becoming increasingly important for international scientific research. It remains unclear, however, whether the conditions for its use (such as training of personnel, accessibility to computers and data, whether the programs are up-to-date, etc.) meet the requirements of modern scientific research. Another question addressed is how computer resources and collaborative platforms need to develop to allow scientists from disciplines as varied as astrophysics, chemistry, materials science, aerodynamics and meteorology to continue to conduct their work successfully, and in particular participate in interdisciplinary collaborations.
In order to address these issues the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) invited the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) to coordinate an international review of research using high performance computing in the UK – the first ever Anglo-German collaboration of its kind. The findings of the review, published in the report “International Review of Research Using HPC in the UK” was presented in London on 12 December 2005. The DFG's President, Professor Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, also attended the presentation. The complete report can be downloaded from http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/CMSWeb/Downloads/Other/HPCInternationalReviewReport.pdf.
The review was conducted by a panel of international researchers, appointed by the EPSRC and the DFG. The panel of ten international researchers of the highest standing, from Germany, Japan, Belgium, Switzerland and the USA, looked at 15 British research facilities which rely primarily on the use of HPC for their work. Some of the information gathered for the report was obtained in interviews at the facilities. “The EPSRC wanted a totally unbiased, independent opinion of their research facilities”, said Harald Knobloch from the DFG, who was a member of the Steering Group and thus pivotal to the coordination of the review. “That was one of the reasons why there were no British researchers on the panel”.
The findings of the review: The International Review Panel found that research in the UK using HPC in many areas, particularly provision of high performance computers, is of the highest standing and competitive at the international level. However, they also made several recommendations for further improvements of the research environment in the UK, in particular regarding the installation of high performance computing services such as the “High End Computing Terascale Resource” (HECToR).
Unlike Germany, high-end computing resources in the UK are purchased and administered by the respective Research Councils responsible for each discipline, which are also responsible for allocating computing time for researchers and universities. The EPSRC and the High End Computing Strategy Committee, which belongs to it, has overall responsibility for this.