NICE: How New Supercomputer for N8 Universities Will Accelerate UK Research

March 13, 2020

March 13, 2020 — Funding provided by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has the potential to radically improve the UK’s capabilities in supercomputing.

The award is for the new £3.15m Northern Intensive Compute Environment (NICE) at the University of Durham. It will provide a shared facility for academic and industry researchers for all of the N8 Research Partnership universities – Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, and York.

N8 aims to maximize the impact of this research base to enable business innovation and societal transformation. Its universities previously operated Polaris, a supercomputing forerunner, based at the University of Leeds, which was decommissioned in 2018. N8 subsequently established the Centre of Excellence in Computational Intensive Research (N8CIR) which will continue to work on the training and up-skilling of N8 researchers while also being responsible for operating the new supercomputer.

The new facility will be shared on an equal basis with each paying towards its operation, while also allowing access to the EPSRC-supported UK-wide community.

The Tier-2 supercomputing services will provide researchers with invaluable access to powerful systems to support ground-breaking work in areas ranging from Artificial Intelligence (AI), energy storage and supply, and therapeutic drug design.

The new service will use the same technology as that used in the current leading supercomputers in the world, but on a smaller scale. The technology has been chosen with the aim of supporting a combination of experimental users and modelers using machine learning, and in bringing the two communities together.

This will mean that machine learning can be better used to analyze the vast data sets now being generated by experimentalists through, for example, national facilities such as Diamond and the Henry Royce Institute and international facilities such as the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility.

This will allow scientists to advance the imaging techniques necessary to produce the next generation of X-ray instruments and to support the development of the next generation of students working with deep learning techniques at the interface of algorithms and High Performance Computing.

Prof Matt Probert, director of N8 CIR, based at the University of York, said: “This is a machine that has been designed for communities that are not well represented within the current supercomputer user base, such as image analysis and experimental data analysis. Image analysis is particularly exciting, as it is becoming more important as people are producing medical images and images of materials at a quantum level.”

The new supercomputer is designed for machine learning, with algorithms able to find the patterns and meaning in data produced by scientists, and can undertake this analysis in the fraction of a time of a conventional computer.

It is the only machine of this architecture with the UK, and will allow UK researchers to demonstrate that they are capable of using the biggest supercomputer in the world, currently located at the Oakridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

However, Prof Probert believes that more significant than the supercomputer itself is the human capital that has been invested by the N8 universities:

“The N8 universities have committed a significant workforce in the form of research software engineers (RSEs) to support the new machine and to help develop the capability of those who are using it for the first time.

“It actually costs more to provide the RSEs than the hardware, but to have the hardware without any academic support would be counterproductive. This is a different type of computer to those already in use in the UK, and it requires extra work to train people up to use it.”

The computer is set to be delivered within the next two months, and its arrival will be followed by a period of building and installation. Following initial tests, it will be rolled out to a set of beta testers before it being an open facility by early summer. Following an initial period of exclusivity for N8 researchers, the machine will then be available to any researcher with appropriate EPSRC support.

“What excites me most about the new computer is having new users utilize it to undertake their research – this will result in a huge step forward in their ability to analyze data, and make it easier for these people to do these kind of calculations,” continued Prof Probert. “It’s possible that the supercomputer will deliver calculations 40 times faster – or, rather than taking a month, certain analyses can be programmed and completed in less than a day.

“This increase in speed will result an enhanced number of results being produced across a variety of different fields, which will result in the delivery of more papers of improved quality. This is a hugely exciting time for the UK’s scientific community, and I look forward to seeing the outputs generated through the supercomputer in the years ahead. The more people who use the supercomputer the more likely it is that new, potentially crucial, uses for it will be discovered – it’s incredibly exciting for N8 and the wider UK scientific community.”

About the N8 Research Partnership (N8)

The N8 Research Partnership (N8) is the collaboration body for the universities of Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, and York, and aims to maximize the impact of this research base to enable business innovation and societal transformation. For more information, visit www.n8research.org.uk.

About the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the main funding body for engineering and physical sciences research in the UK. By investing in research and postgraduate training, EPSRC is building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. For more information visit UK Research and Innovation.


Source: N8 Research Partnership

 

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