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University of Exeter speeds up proceedings with new supercomputer

06 Sep 17

A new supercomputer named Isca has been built at the University of Exeter.

According to the University, the high performance computing (HPC) machine was implemented as the existing departmental HPC resources within Life Sciences and Physics were coming to the end of life.

Researchers from across the University are now benefitting from the new technology after using funding partly from its own coffers supplemented by a large grant from the Medical Research Council.

The original tender took into account that the University asked for options to provide temporary housing for the new HPC machine whilst work on a new data hall being completed.

OCF, a high performance compute, storage and data analytics integrator, came up with the idea to house Isca in a Rapid Deployment Data Centre (RDDC), which is effectively a container solution from Stulz Technology Integration.

Known as ‘The Pod’, the dedicated HPC container was custom-fabricated for the University by Stulz to house the OCF designed, integrated and configured HPC machine – and delivered as a package to the University in July 2016.

“This was phase one of the new supercomputer, located on campus in the specialised container, where the machine ran for the first twelve months,” says David Barker, technical architect at the University of Exeter.

“We tested and used the system while it was housed in the temporary location to give us an understanding of what we used a lot of; this informed phase two of the project which was to expand the system with the help of OCF and move it to its final location in the new data centre on campus.”

Furthermore, OCF and Lenovo worked together on the design of the computer to optimise both virtualised and traditional environments for the differing needs of the life sciences and physics researchers respectively.

The new 6,000 core system is comprised of Lenovo NeXtScale servers with a number of NVIDIA GPU nodes, Intel Xeon Phi processors and additional high memory compute resources to cater to these needs.

The Lenovo NeXtScale servers are connected through Mellanox EDR Infiniband to three GS7K parallel file system appliances from DDN Storage, providing just under one petabyte of capacity.

Meanwhile, OCF’s own Open Source HPC Software Stack, based on XCAT, runs on the system along with RDO OpenStack, NICE DCV and Adaptive Computing MOAB.

“As well as having the standard nodes, we also have various pieces of specialist kit which includes NVIDIA GPU nodes, Intel Xeon Phi nodes and OpenStack cloud nodes as well,” says Barker.

“We wanted to ensure that the new system caters for as wide a variety of research projects as possible, so the system reflects the diversity of the applications and requirements our users have.”

According to the University, Isca has had a monumental impact with researchers benefiting from 2-3x speed up compared to the previous departmental clusters.

“We’ve seen in the last few years a real growth in interest in High Performance Computing from life sciences, particularly with the availability of new high-fidelity genome sequencers, which have heavy compute requirements, and that demand will keep going up,” comments David Acreman, senior research fellow at the University of Exeter.

“Isca is proving to be an incredibly valuable service to the whole university and is now proving indispensable to our research groups.”

The University will be hosting a launch event and open day on 6th September.

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