Nottingham uni powers up £5m supercomputer

Lots and lots of flops

Nottingham University officially launches its shiny new £5m high performance computing facility today. The machine has a peak performance of 3.14 Teraflops, according to the LINPACK test, making it the fastest academic machine in the UK.

The university has had other smaller clusters within departments, but this is the first large centrally-managed cluster. At its core is a central 1024 Opteron cluster installed by Sun and Streamline, with 16 satellite clusters around the University campus.

The machine wieghs in at 13 tonnes - the equivalent of about eight family cars - and occupies 650 cubic feet of space. It can perform three million million calculations every second, and has 50 Terabytes of disk space. This, the Nottingham press announcement tells us, is enough space to hold enough music to play continuously, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for the next 5,700 years. Still, it is not quite as portable as an iPod.

"The whole University will be using this facility and not just one particular department. We do not view this as a grid exercise for the sake of Computer Science," said Nottingham University's grid manager, Jason Hogan-O'Neill.

He told us that to date, the heaviest users have been Pharmacy, Physics and Chemistry (in no particular order), but that when the service is fully launched today, more than 20 schools within the University will want access to it, including those in Biology, Medicine and Geography. Academics in each school will be able to access the supercomputer directly through their desktop PCs via a ‘clone’ system, the university says.

Dr Frazer Pearce, an astronomer in the School of Physics, will have a paper published in the next edition of the journal, Nature, based on work on modeling the evolution of the universe he has performed on the cluster during its alpha and beta testing. Pearce is also the HPC project leader, and says that the machine will allow the university to tackle "grand challenge computational projects".

"Modern research relies heavily on computers. World class research often requires a world class high performance computing facility, something to which researchers at the University of Nottingham now have on-demand access," he went on.

Professor John O’Reilly, chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will officially open the facility this afternoon. ®

Update:

Thanks to a number of readers who have pointed out that, in fact, the fastest supercomputer used in academia is the HPCX, based at Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire. The machine is jointly managed by Edinburgh University and CCLRC, and can chug throughdata at an impressive 6.19 Teraflops.

Our thanks also to a number of you who, unimpressed with Nottingham's 3.14 teraflop beastie wrote in a long the lines of: "Oooh, 3.14 Teraflops. That'll be the same as 1.44 Playstation 3s, then?"

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