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U Cambridge and Dell Build HPC Research Center

A new Dell cluster is going in at the University of Cambridge in its High Performance Computing (HPC) Service as part of a Dell/Cambridge HPC Solution Centre. The Solution Centre acts as a vehicle for "capturing" HPC requirements, developing solutions, and running tests in a production environment for Dell. What's learned there will be turned into white papers and technical bulletins, which are made available to the broader HPC community.

The partnership of Dell and Cambridge will allow researchers to explore the use of commodity technology in HPC environments. The first deliverable from the initiative is actually a research paper that details how to set up a commodity storage system using the Dell Lustre Storage Brick.

The document examines performance, reliability, and maintenance issues. As the research paper stated, "A large 270 TB (6 brick) configuration within the Cambridge production environment has demonstrated very good operational characteristics with an unscheduled downtime of less than 0.5 percent over 2 years of 24/7 service."

Connecting components in the new Centre is a set of InfiniBand products from Mellanox Technologies, including ConnectX-2 adapter cards, BridgeX gateway system, 40 gigabit/second InfiniBand switches, and cables.

The Solution Centre will be based out of the existing Cambridge HPC Service building, a facility already being used for delivering HPC services via a cloud computing model. The HPC cluster provides support to 400 internal users in 70 research groups in both traditional areas--chemistry, physics, and biology--and newer ones, such as bio-medicine and social sciences.

"The Solutions Centre has been founded with the overriding mandate of providing accessible research computing services and technology to organizations that would otherwise not have the money or expertise to benefit from such advantages, whether they are from academic or private sector backgrounds. We have amassed a considerable and focused pool of expertise and compute power that we hope will help speed up research within a wide range of fields," said Paul Calleja, director of the HPC Service. "For researchers taking their first steps into HPC, we can provide the perfect platform to trial applications and for those looking to take things to a new level, we have the necessary support and understanding to really get research off the ground."

He added that incorporating Mellanox InfiniBand as part of the clustering backbone of the Solutions Centre was essential to the cloud provision requirements.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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