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UK's supercomputers rev up to hit 800 teraflops

HECToR and BlueGene/Q to help look at climate data, sniff out Higgs boson

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The UK's supercomputing programme in Edinburgh enters its third stage this week, ramping up its capability to 800 trillion floating point operations per second.

Four years after their installation at Edinburgh Uni's Advanced Computing Facility in 2008, the two supercomputers – HECToR and BlueGene/Q – will achieve a combined capability 10 times what they were clocking at the start.

Built by US firm Cray, HECToR was the UK's only entry in the first top 50 of the world's top 500 supercomputers as ranked in 2011.

HECToR's data-digesting power has been used by scientists across the UK to crunch through projects as diverse as modelling dinosaur walks, predicting climate change and understanding air turbulence.

Minister for Universities and Science, David Willets said:

E-infrastructure is fundamental to modern research and development. It helps our world-leading science base achieve breakthroughs across a range of important disciplines and helps industry design and manufacture new products

Prof David Delpy of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which has pumped £13.9m into the project, said that the data-burning computer was vital to supporting "the development of science, discovery and new commercial partnerships".

HECToR's vast computing brains are packed into 30 cabinets in Edinburgh University. A further 10 cabinets contain the drives needed to store the computer's 1 petabyte of disk space. It claims to be the most energy-efficient super computer ever built – using the energy equivalent to that consumed by just one lightbulb to perform the calculations of 100 laptops.

The BlueGene/Q distributed computing project is used for particle and astro-physics calculations. ®

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