How to boost groundbreaking research with remote computing power

HPC use at the University of Aberdeen soared 50% during the height of the pandemic. In this snapshot, Dean Phillips, Deputy 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 quickly adapted to change thanks to its continued commitment and investments in innovative technologies. The
The institution’s High Performance Computing (HPC) cluster, named Maxwell, which was designed, integrated and managed by storage, cloud and AI specialist HPC, OCF was instrumental in this process. It has provided vast amounts of remote computing processing power to ensure that the development of world-class research remains of the utmost importance during this turbulent time and beyond.

Supercomputing for everyone

Maxwell supports groundbreaking research at the University
Center for Genome-Enabled Biology and Medicine (CGEBM) and provides a centralized University-wide HPC system with applications in medicine, biological sciences, engineering, chemistry, mathematics and computer science. Researchers use Maxwell in various schools across a wide range of disciplines and research topics – including genome sequencing and analysis, simulation of chemical pathways, assessment of the impact of climate change, and modeling of financial systems – and as a catalyst for interdisciplinary research in areas such as systems biology.

With 20 times more storage than our previous HPC system, Maxwell includes four Lenovo servers for management, 40 other Lenovo compute nodes, and a significant expansion of NVIDIA GPUs. OCF also provides a software stack and its service managed by the HPC administrator to support our internal HPC team.
Ensure the daily operation of the HPC cluster and deal with support issues, user requests and keep abreast of software and security updates.

HPC service is suitable for solving problems that require considerable computing power or involve huge amounts of data that would normally take weeks or even months to analyze on a desktop computer. Maxwell can supply over a thousand desktop computer resources for entire days, doing the work that a single desktop computer would take a year in a single day. Therefore, the HPC cluster is paramount for the continued success of the research work, especially when we were forced to leave campus in 2020.

Support is the key

With a completely remote working method instilled, researchers, staff, and students needed constant access to Maxwell to use the computing power needed to carry out life-changing research projects. We understood that support was essential and further improved our game by developing digital skills workshops for the research community. With the support of OCF, we have developed an HPC education and training environment called Macleod, which supports over 30 courses, increasing the visibility and understanding of Maxwell.

The sessions were well received, increasing adoption of the system as a new bank of people wanted to understand and use it. Thanks to remote working, there is now a more active public eager to adopt emerging technologies and adapt to new ways of working. As a result, when the lockdown began, Maxwell usage doubled and our HPC cluster usage is still well above the pre-pandemic baseline, meaning results are delivered faster, new discoveries and revolutionary products are developed and improved. market are made.

Local innovation

Another benefit is that we have had the foresight to recognize the potential of HPC and how it could affect the wider community to positively impact people and daily life. Thus, in addition to supporting the University, the HPC application has also been expanded to support small business initiatives and spur much needed economic growth and innovation in the region.

At Aberdeen, we’re passionate about making a difference and delivering results that
affect real life. We are very connected to the Aberdeen business community and we work closely with the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) to collaborate with local start-ups who could use Maxwell to support their research. Maxwell has the ability to do algorithmic work, spurring AI innovation to support the NHS in Aberdeen.

We have a huge role to play, and these are exciting times. I come from a research background working with clinicians, so being able to support where we can make a real impact is monumental.
This is only the tip of the iceberg of what can be achieved. Maxwell’s potential is enormous.Dean Phillips is Deputy Director, Digital and Information Services at the University of Aberdeen

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