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OCF Deploys Petascale Lenovo Supercomputer at University of Southampton

Researchers from across the University of Southampton are benefitting from a new high performance computing (HPC) machine named Iridis, which has entered the Top500, debuting at 251 on the list. The new 1,300 teraflops system was designed, integrated and configured by high performance compute, storage and data analytics integrator, OCF, and will support research demanding traditional HPC as well as projects requiring large scale deep storage, big data analytics, web platforms for bioinformatics, and AI services.

Over the past decade, the University has seen a 425 per cent increase in the number of research projects using HPC services, from across multiple disciplines such as engineering, chemistry, physics, medicine and computer science. In addition, the new HPC system is also supporting the University’s Wolfson Unit. Best known for ship model testing, sailing yacht performance and ship design software, the Unit was founded in 1967 to enable industry to benefit from the facilities, academic excellence and research activities at the University of Southampton.

“We have a worldwide customer base and have worked with the British Cycling Team for the last three Olympic games, as well as working with teams involved in the America’s Cup yacht race,” comments Sandy Wright, Principal Research Engineer, Wolfson Unit at the University of Southampton. “In the past 10 years, Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) has become a perfectly valid commercial activity, reducing the need for physical experimentation. CFD gives as good an answer as the wind tunnel, without the need to build models, so you can speed up research whilst reducing costs. Iridis 5 will enable the Wolfson Unit to get more accurate results, whilst looking at more parameters and asking more questions of computational models.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Syma Khalid, Professor of Computational Biophysics at the University: “Our research focuses on understanding how biological membranes function – we use HPC to develop models to predict how membranes protect bacteria. These membranes control how molecules move in and out of bacteria. We aim to understand how they do this at the molecular level. The new insights we gain from our HPC studies have the potential to inform the development of novel antibiotics. We’ve had early access to Iridis 5 and it’s substantially bigger and faster than its previous iteration – it’s well ahead of any other in use at any University across the UK for the types of calculations we’re doing.

Four times more powerful than the University’s previous HPC system, Iridis comprises more than 20,000 Intel Skylake cores on a next generation Lenovo ThinkSystem SD530 server – the first UK installation of the hardware. In addition, it is using 10x Gigabyte servers in total containing 40x NVIDIA GTX 1080 Ti GPUs for projects requiring high single precision performance, and OCF has committed to the delivery of 20x Volta GPUs when they become available. OCF’s xCAT-based software is used to manage the main HPC resources, with Bright Computing’s Advanced Linux Cluster Management software chosen to provide the research cloud and data analytics portions of the system.

“We’re purposefully embracing more researchers and disciplines than ever before at the University, which brings a lot of competing demands, so we need a more agile way to provision systems,” says Oz Parchment, Director of iSolutions, at the University of Southampton.” Users need a infrastructure that’s flexible and easily managed, which is why Bright Computing is the ideal solution, particularly as we’re now embracing more complex research disciplines.”

Iridis has two petabytes of storage provided by Lenovo DSS Spectrum Scale Appliance connected via Mellanox EDR Infiniband and more than five PetaBytes of research data management storage using IBM Tape, taking advantage of the latest 15TB capable drives and media. The University has committed to a Proof of Concept of StrongBox’s StrongLink data and tape management solution, a unique approach to manging data environments that automates data classification for life-cycle data management for any data, on any storage, anywhere.

Oz continues: “The University of Southampton has a long tradition in the use of computational techniques to generate new knowledge and insight, stretching back to 1959 when our researchers first used modelling techniques on the design of Sydney Opera House. Data and analysis of that data, using computational methods is at the heart of modern science and technology and, in order to attract the best world-class researchers we need world-class research facilities.”

Julian Fielden, Managing Director of OCF comments: “Academia really is feeling the pressure in attracting new researchers, groups and grants. Competition has never been fiercer. Throughout our 13-year relationship with the University of Southampton, it has had the determination and ambition to compete not just nationally, but internationally and, critically, provide the HPC, Cloud and Data Analytics services that world-class researchers desire.

On working with OCF, Parchment concludes: “We’ve been working with OCF since 2004. The team has always delivered to our needs and gone the extra mile providing services, support and consultancy in addition to the hardware and software solutions. OCF listens and understands our needs, putting forward ideas that we haven’t even thought about. The team are all technical innovators.”

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