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COVER STORY


How Prof Mark Parsons aims to keep the UK in the global supercomputing arms race


The Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre director explains the strategy he hopes will help Archer join the US and China in the world’s supercomputer top 20


BY KEVIN O’SULLIVAN Mark Parsons sounds remarkably alert for a man who is just back from an exhausting tour of some of the world’s biggest supercom- puting functions and facilities. In the past fornight he’s been in the US, at Supercomputing 2018


– the industry’s mega-conference, attracting some 14,000 delegates – and in Japan as a guest at the Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science campus in Kobe. “It was certainly a big trip, but incredibly interesting,” says Parsons, Executive Director of the UK’s own National Supercom- puter, ‘ARCHER’, which sits in a


18 | FUTURESCOT | WINTER 2018


rather dour industrial facility on the outskirts of Edinburgh. I ask Parsons what the ‘big


reveal’ was at this year’s event in Dallas, Texas, and he references the relatively new US super- computer, appropriately named ‘Summit’; at 200 petaflops, it is a “massive” system, he says, capable of performing an unfathomable 200 million billion calculations per second. Professor Parsons runs the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC), which has oversight of ARCHER; at 2.5 petaflops the system is now five years old and has unfortunately fallen way down the global super- computing charts. It is a fact that depresses Prof. Parsons and why he freely admits he doesn’t check since he last discovered ARCHER languishing at a lowly 131st. “It’s never been this low before,


in terms of the big national sys- tem,” he says. “In the major Euro- pean economies we are signficantly lagging behind at the moment. Te government, because of austerity, has simply not been investing.” Fortunately for Parsons and


his 110-strong staff, a fresh round of procurement for ARCHER II is underway, thanks to a £115m programme of investment, which looks set to propel the EPCC back into the global Top 20; the cash injection will come from the UK and Scottish government-funded City Region Deal for Edinburgh and South East Scotland, of which just shy of £50m will go towards upgrading ARCHER II to 30 pet- aflops in computing power.


Arguably there has never been a better time to secure that investment. Forbes reported this


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