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HIGH PERFORMANCE COMPUTING


Robert Roe interviews Mark Parsons on the strategy for HPC in the UK


Advancing HPC in the UK


Professor Mark Parsons is the Director of EPCC and Associate Dean for e-Research. In this interview, he discusses the development of HPC in the UK, the UK’s place in the European supercomputing community, and the importance of developing software alongside new HPC systems.


What is the UK’s place in the European HPC community? The UK position in Europe is an interesting one from an HPC and e-infrastructure point of view, because if you look at computational science in the UK we are really strong. I think any of the European countries would say that the UK has always had a very strong computational science community. We do so much science, so we are


naturally going to have a large number of people doing computational science. We were also right there at the beginning of PRACE (Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe), the current European community that spans all the member states. But in 2010 we did not sign up to be a hosting member of PRACE and the countries that did were France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. The UK declined to sign up at that


point, so we have been the largest general partner in PRACE, and I have always felt that we should have been a hosting member, although it wasn’t the government’s decision to do that and we see that continuing into EuroHPC today. Even just putting Brexit to one side, it is not at all clear to me that we would have wholeheartedly signed up to EuroHPC and we have not signed up at the moment. This begs the question if we are not throwing our hat in with the European HPC centres – what exactly is our strategy?


So what is the UK’s strategy for HPC? If you were to go back to the 1990s and the first decade of the new century, you would see that the UK was investing at roughly


14 Scientific Computing World October/November 2019


the same level as these other big European countries. That tailed off in the last few years. Obviously we have had ARCHER (Advanced Research Computing High End Resource), which was a big investment but around the time ARCHER came around, the German centres were putting in three systems the size of ARCHER. That has continued to this day. We are


about to get ARCHER 2 but if you were to look at the German centres, you would see that each of them has an ARCHER 2 sized system. That it is generally accepted. There has been a lot of work over the last year, about how the scientific community thinks about our e-infrastructure needs. That is not just supercomputing, although supercomputing is a large part of it. About a year ago a process was


started by, what is now, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to develop an e-infrastructure roadmap, and this fed into a road-mapping exercise that was happening for all scientific infrastructure


moment because, for the first time in a long time, there is a proper look at the UK’s supercomputing roadmap and general e-infrastructure roadmap.


How long until the budget decisions take place?


This is in the hands of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and what the next, or current, administration wants to do with the spending review. There will be a full spending review every three to four years, so when that happens UKRI will be part of that review and will be asking for money – part of that will be scientific infrastructure, of which, e-infrastructure is a key part.


Will the UK get a Tier-0 system? There is definitely a large debate, of which I am deeply involved, around what the UK should do with Tier-0 or exascale computing. We are not part of EuroHPC, so we are not going to have access to the exascale systems that appear in Europe


“We are in quite a positive phase at the moment because, for the first time in a long time, there is a proper look at the UK’s supercomputing roadmap”


– telescopes, particle physics accelerators, all these kinds of things plus e-infrastructure. So people came together from across


the research councils and we produced a roadmap which included a supercomputing roadmap – which provided a good view of what the scientific community needed over the next six to eight years. This was a very large amount of money that was asked for, if you add up everything from the different reports, which any government would look at and say ‘we cannot possibly afford all of that’, but there is, and will be, a period of identifying the budget and working out how to best spend the funds that are made available. We are in quite a positive phase at the


in 2023, they will also have some very large systems in 2021, around 150 to 200 Pflop systems, and we will not have access to that which will have a detrimental effect on our scientific and industrial communities ability to use the largest scale of supercomputing. That raises the question of can we


partner with another country, or should the UK think about investing in a large Tier-0 system? That is an ongoing debate. I work very closely with Susan Morel, head of research infrastructure at EPSRC, for the best part of the last decade. I have been the advisor to Susan (the representative from the government) on the PRACE council. Susan and I felt for a very long time


@scwmagazine | www.scientific-computing.com


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