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Celebrating HPC and research at UCL


Last month saw the official launch of University College London’s brand new High Performance Computing system, Grace. Julian Fielden, Managing Director at OCF, provider of high performance computing, storage and data analytics, provides a recap of the day’s event.

Our customers are able to achieve amazing things – from discovering the origins of the Universe to understanding links between genetics and disease [to name just two examples] – so it was a great pleasure to present at the launch of University College London’s new HPC machine, Grace, last week.

Named after the pioneering computer scientist, Admiral Grace Hopper, the new 181 Teraflop system is the result of hard work not only from the team at OCF, but also thanks to successful partnerships between UCL, OCF, DDN, Virtus Data Centres and Lenovo.

As UCL’s Director of Research IT services (and host for the day), Clare Gryce, commented: “When you get down to building and commissioning the machine, it’s about the collaboration between UCL and OCF’s technical team. All HPC systems are different so having an experienced integrator involved is invaluable.”

Founded in 1826 to open up university education in England to those who had been excluded from it, UCL is now currently ranked seventh in the World’s top ten universities. UCL became the first University in England to admit women students on equal terms as men, so it seems fitting that one of the day’s speakers, Dr. Toni Collis, spoke about the importance of Grace and why we need more women in HPC.

Professor Richard Kenway from the University of Edinburgh joined us, as did Dr. Owain Kenway from University College London, who led presentations on how Universities can remain competitive as research goes digital and scalable HPC for research delivery.

Rounding out the speakers for the day’s event were;

  • Dr. Mayeul D’Avezac, senior research software developer at UCL – who presented on better coding for better HPC and how focusing on writing tested code yields more sustainable research software.
  • Poppy Di Pietro, PhD student in Computational Chemistry at UCL – discussing the broad context of her research using UCL’s HPC facilities and presenting some of her most recent results in uranium bonding and nuclear waste.

It was pleasing to see that speakers representing almost every part of HPC were involved in the day – from integrators and technology providers, through to researchers and directors of IT research services. It provided the attendees with a fantastic overview of the hard work, passion and commitment by all to provide HPC services to UCL.

The most fascinating part of the event for me was the final question and answer session, which gave all of the attendees a chance to quiz the panel speakers. There were far too many questions for me to adequately detail them all in this blog, but one question really stuck out for me – how can academic fields newish to HPC best be encouraged to make the most of what is possible?

Prof. Richard Kenway best summed up the answer: “I talk to [research] disciplines that don’t use HPC; they know they’re facing massive amounts of data and they want to do something with it. There’s a huge amount of enthusiasm to exploit the data, but they don’t have the experience and don’t know how to get started in HPC.

I think there’s a real opportunity and a responsibility upon those of us that do have the knowledge to reach out and help. Where we [the HPC community] will benefit is that they will generate new ideas and ways to solve problems that are relevant to us.”

It would be remiss of me not to mention Clare Gryce, UCL’s Director of Research IT Services at UCL with whom we’ve built a great relationship since first beginning work with UCL, along with Sigourney Luz, Marketing and Communications Officer at Science Engineering South. Thanks to both for organising such a great event.

Don’t just take my word for it though, read what others thought about the day too: Twitter – #GRACEatUCL