University welcomes Welsh supercomputing project

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Scientists at Aberystwyth University have welcomed the creation of High Performance Computing Wales (HPC Wales), a £40m project to develop a new supercomputing network in Wales.

Funding for the project came from ERDF and ESF European funds channelled through WEFO, the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), from collaborating institutions, the Welsh Assembly Government/HEFCW and the private sector.

The £40m investment will cover infrastructure development, equipment, software research, management and operational costs over the first five years to 2015, when HPC Wales will become self supporting and sustainable.

HPC Wales consists of three elements: investment in high-performance computing equipment, infrastructure and pan-Wales distribution networks, a training academy to develop high-performance computing skills and an institute to provide high-level technical services to support research and economic activities.

The main computer hubs for HPC Wales will be in Cardiff and Swansea, linked to spokes at Aberystwyth, Bangor and Glamorgan universities, University of Wales Alliance universities and Technium business innovation centres around Wales.

HPC Wales will be managed by a charitable, not-for-profit organisation set up by the St David’s Day group of universities and the University of Wales Alliance.

More than 100 collaborative projects between universities and industry have already been identified that would benefit from HPC technology. These range from modelling and simulating medical implants to monitoring environmental change.

The HPC facilities will be available for use by businesses working independently or in collaboration with academics. One of the beneficiaries will be Prof Richard Lucas, who heads the Earth observation unit at the university’s Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, and works with the Aberystwyth-based company Environment Systems, who provide consultancy and services in geographic and environmental information.

Prof Lucas uses images taken from aircraft and satellites to understand and quantify how environments, including those in Wales, are responding to change associated with human activities or natural events.

’Many of the datasets exploited in our research are large,’ he said. ’Data from the spaceborne optical and radar sensors that we use are available over entire countries has, and continues to be, acquired on a regular basis. These time-series datasets offer unique insights into the past and present state of landscapes and can allow us to understand, model and predict changes that might occur in the future.’

But the size and processing costs of these data are enormous, and the HPC will allow Prof Richard Lucas and his team to fully exploit existing and newly collected data sets. ’With the provision of HPC, we have a far greater capacity to process and analyse these data to address issues relating particularly to human impacts on landscapes and changes associated with climatic variation, he said.