University challenge

UCL and Dell are to build a supercomputer that will enable researchers to tackle problems of unprecedented size and complexity.

UCL (University College London) and Dell have unveiled plans to install Legion – a supercomputer that will enable UCL researchers to tackle problems of unprecedented size and complexity.

Michael Dell, Chairman and CEO of Dell, and Prof Malcolm Grant, President and Provost of UCL, also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), cementing plans to pursue a series of collaborative research activities based on UCL’s new computer.

The Legion computer cluster is expected to sport a peak performance of 42.9 TeraFlops per second (TF/sec), the equivalent  of approximately 2,700 desktop systems.

For comparison, the new National Supercomputing service HECToR will deliver approximately 60 TF/sec. Legion is expected to enter service in December 2007. Once complete, it will weigh 21 metric tonnes, 7km of cabling will be used in its construction, and it will consume 19,000 litres of air per second.

The new computer’s likely to get a lot of use. Researchers in the department of chemistry, working with clinicians at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, will use fluid simulation applications and patient-specific MRI data to model blood flow through the brain of stroke victims. This will enable consultants to make changes to the newly created patient-specific model of the vascular system in real time, so as to test treatments and then alter their prognosis of the condition.

For their part, the UCL department of Physiology will perform simulations of key area of the brain to the level of individual cells that make up neural networks, thus reproducing real nerve activity.

While researchers in the department of Physics and Astronomy will perform the most detailed simulations ever conducted of cold dark matter structure formation in the Universe. This will test our understanding of the origin of galaxies and of gravity itself.

With £3.85m funding from the Science Research Infrastructure Fund (SRIF), UCL will implement a main distributed memory HPC cluster consisting of 2560 processor cores based on Intel Dual-core technology, an SMP cluster comprising 96 processor cores and 192TB high-performance storage.

Working closely with Dell’s Supercomputing Practice in the UK, UCL’s Information Systems staff will install the main cluster configured as 10 inter-connected computational units, offering UCL researchers the ability to tackle ever more complex problems, carry out more detailed analysis and address larger computational challenges.