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Working with Warwick, Cardiff, Swansea and Birmingham on Cloud HPC Part 1 of 3: The tech


The CLIMB system is the single largest cloud system specifically for microbial bioinformatics research in the world.

I’m really pleased to be able to tell you about a fascinating project OCF has been working on – the Cloud Infrastructure for Microbial Bioinformatics (CLIMB) – which is a collaboration between the University of Birmingham, Cardiff University, Swansea University, and the University of Warwick.

The majority of pre-existing HPC resources in the UK aren’t often well suited for microbial bioinformatics workloads; they have been designed for performance, often with chemistry or physics use-cases in mind.

The CLIMB system itself is different in that it has been designed with the needs of microbiologists in mind, enabling the system to support the sorts of workloads they’d like to run – i.e. large, rich and complex biological datasets, which need more RAM than you’d normally see in an HPC system.

Each site across the four universities uses Lenovo System x servers with 21x four socket 512GB RAM and 3x eight-socket 3TBs of RAM. This sort of capacity will make a massive difference for the four universities and for anyone who uses the system. In addition, the sites have two tiers of storage – each of the four sites has 500TBs managed by IBM Spectrum Scale, and a further 3PBs of replicated Ceph object storage, supported by Red Hat, on hardware provided by Dell. As you can tell, this is a great example of how we can help design and build systems for customers using our partnerships with world-leading vendors.

What makes this system so special is that it is the single largest cloud system specifically for microbial bioinformatics research in the world. It’s a great example of how very new, innovative technologies can be made to work successfully for customers.

Although the systems are currently in an early-adopter stage, over 50 researchers from around the UK are already accessing CLIMB with the Birmingham HPC node seeing 100% utilisation already.

The next step in the CLIMB project is to focus our people, expertise and resources on completing the process of connecting up all four sites using OpenStack Kilo; making it a true multi-site cloud system with single sign-on for academic users.

Dr Thomas Connor, Senior Lecturer from Cardiff University told me “Because of the cutting edge nature of the infrastructure itself, close contact with the vendors has been critical in delivering the system. Access to advanced HPC technology alone is not sufficient; the contacts at OCF and its partners IBM, Lenovo, and Red Hat, have been critical in building what is a stable platform that is already helping progress research into bacterial pathogens.”

It’s all too easy to focus on the impressive technology in HPC systems but let’s not forget that these systems are contributing to scientific research that is, in the case of Tom Connor, of global significance – you can read about Tom’s research using CLIMB in a separate article here.


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