Case study: Empowering groundbreaking research

University of Aberdeen’s HPC usage rockets by 50 per cent and continues to support pioneering research with remote compute power

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, 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 research remains of utmost importance during this turbulent time and beyond. Maxwell supports

research at the university’s Centre for Genome-Enabled Biology and Medicine (CGEBM) and provides a centralised HPC system for the whole university, with applications in medicine, biological sciences, engineering, chemistry, maths 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 modelling – and as a catalyst for interdisciplinary research in areas such as systems biology. With 20 times more

storage than the university’s 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 Virtual System Administrator service management to support the in-house HPC team.

Dean Phillips, assistant

director, digital and information services at the University of Aberdeen, explains: ‘OCF’s HPC Virtual System Administrator service is an extension of our team and really helps to ensure the smooth day-to-day running of our HPC cluster and with dealing with support issues, user requests and keeping on top of software and security updates.

”We have a huge part to play, and these are exciting times”

‘Throughout the pandemic, OCF helped with our infrastructure and helped us to use it in different ways to suit our needs as the world changed. OCF delivered the knowledge and expertise needed and were quick to react, in and out of hours. As a result, we have created a stronger, long-term relationship and we are a true partnership.’ 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 analyse 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

8 Scientific Computing World Summer 2021 8 SCIENTIFIC COMPUTING

day. Therefore, the HPC cluster is paramount to the continued success of research work, especially when the university was forced to take work off campus in 2020. With a complete remote

way of working instilled, researchers, staff and students alike needed constant access to Maxwell to utilise the sheer scale of compute power needed to carry on with life- changing research projects. The university understood support was key and upped its game further by developing digital skills workshops for the research community. With support from OCF, the university developed its teaching and training HPC environment called Macleod, which supports more than 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 the 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 realised. The university had the

foresight to recognise 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 to drive much- needed economic growth and innovation in the area. Phillips explains: ‘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 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 huge impact is monumental. This is just the tip of the iceberg at what can be achieved. Maxwell’s potential is huge.’

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