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Wales joins supercomputer club

£40m project

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A £40m supercomputer project has been announced by the Welsh Assembly Government, to help Wales join the supercomputer club and increase knowledge-intensive skills in the country.

The HPC Wales project was first announced as a £44m project by the UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in December last year. The project survived the change of government but lost £4m funding.

The Welsh Assembly Government thinks that HPC Wales could help create up to 400 jobs and improve skills in knowledge-intensive areas which it sees as the future driver for jobs in Wales.

Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Assembly Government's deputy minister for science, innovation and skills, said: "It will speed up innovation from research carried out in Welsh Universities through to commercial-market ready products. It will also have a major impact on high level skills development and training and put Wales right up there as an international player in the world of computational research."

Funding includes £19m from the EU, £10m from BIS, £5m from the Welsh Assembly Government, £4m from collaborating institutions and £2m from private sector and research income. This will sustain the project for five years, after which it is meant to be self-funding.

The money will be spent in three ways.

First there is the high performance computing (HPC) hardware, software, infrastructure and a distribution network.

Second, there will be a training academy to develop HPC skills, and thirdly there will be an institute to provide technical services to support research and development and economic activities.

The money will be further diluted by going to two HPC hub sites, at Swansea and Cardiff universities. These will be linked to a set of tier 1 spokes at Aberystwyth, Bangor and Glamorgan universities plus a Swansea health informatics spoke. There will also be second tier spokes at University of Wales Alliance Universities and Technium business innovation centres.

Altogether that amounts to substantial communications and staffing costs.

There is no information available about what kind of supercomputer architecture is being envisaged. The hardware has not been procured yet and the proportion of the £40m funding allocated to it has not been identified. Instead of there being a £40m petaflop-class supercomputer we are looking at two machines, one per hub, and probably with performance in the tens of teraflops range, given the many things the funding has to pay for.

There is no released time scale for the hardware and infrastructure procurement to complete or for the two hubs to become operational.

Currently there are some HPC facilities at Cardiff and Swansea and smaller facilities at Glamorgan and Bangor universities. These are not networked together. HPC Wales will build on this base and run as a charitable not-for-profit organisation from headquarters in Swansea.

HPC Wales facilities will be available for Welsh businesses working on their own or in concert with academic institutions. ®

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