How To Empower Ground-Breaking Research With Remote Compute Power
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The University of Aberdeen’s HPC usage rocketed by 50% during the height of the pandemic. In this insight, Dean Phillips, assistant director, digital and information services at the University explains how pioneering research was able to continue remotely when moved off campus.
Throughout the pandemic, the University of Aberdeen has quickly adapted to change with its continued commitment to, and investment in, innovative technologies. The Institution’s high-performance computing (HPC) cluster, named Maxwell, which was designed, integrated and managed by HPC, storage, cloud and AI specialist, OCF has been instrumental to this. It has provided large amounts of remote computational processing power to ensure the development of world-class research remains of utmost importance during this turbulent time and beyond.
Supercomputing for all
Maxwell supports ground-breaking research at the University’s Centre for Genome-Enabled Biology and Medicine (CGEBM) and provides a centralized HPC system for the whole University with applications in medicine, biological sciences, engineering, chemistry, math and computing science. Researchers are using Maxwell in various schools across a wide range of disciplines and research topics – including genome sequencing and analysis, chemical pathway simulation, climate change impact assessment and financial systems modeling – and as a catalyst for interdisciplinary research in areas such as systems biology.
With 20 times more storage than our previous HPC system, Maxwell comprises four Lenovo servers for management, 40 further Lenovo compute nodes and significant expansion of NVIDIA GPUs. OCF is also providing a Software Stack and its HPC Admin Managed Service to support our in-house HPC team. Ensuring the smooth day-to-day running of the HPC cluster and dealing with support issues, user requests and keeping on top of software and security updates.
The HPC service is suited to solving problems that require considerable computational power or involve huge amounts of data that would normally take weeks or even months to analyze on a desktop PC. Maxwell can provide over a thousand desktop computers’ worth of resources for days on end, completing the work a single desktop computer would take a year to do in just one day. Therefore, the HPC cluster is paramount to the continued success of research work, especially when we were forced to take work off campus in 2020.
Support is key
With a completely remote way of working instilled, researchers, staff and students alike needed constant access to Maxwell to utilize the compute power required to carry on with life-changing research projects. We understood support was key and upped our game further by developing digital skills workshops for the research community. With support from OCF, we developed a teaching and training HPC environment called Macleod, which supports over 30 courses, increasing visibility and understanding of Maxwell.
The sessions were well received, upscaling the uptake of the system as a new bank of individuals wanted to understand and use it. Through working remotely, there is now a bigger active audience with an eagerness to adopt nascent technologies and adapt to new ways of working. As a result, when lockdown started the usage of Maxwell doubled and the use of our HPC cluster is still well above the pre-pandemic baseline, meaning results are delivered faster, new discoveries and game-changing products are developed and improved times to science and market are realized.
Another benefit is that we had the foresight to recognize the potential of the HPC and how it could affect the wider community to positively impact people and everyday lives. So, as well as supporting the University, the HPC application has also been broadened to support small business initiatives and drive much-needed economic growth and innovation in the area.
At Aberdeen we are passionate about making a difference and delivering outcomes that affect real life. We are very connected to the business community in Aberdeen, and we work closely with the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) to engage with local start-ups that could use Maxwell to support their research. Maxwell has the ability to do algorithm work, driving AI innovation to support the NHS in Aberdeen.
We have a huge part to play, and these are exciting times. I come from a research background working with clinicians so being able to support where we can have a real impact is monumental. This is just the tip of the iceberg at what can be achieved. Maxwell’s potential is huge.
Dean Phillips is assistant director, digital and information services at the University of Aberdeen