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Supercomputing for all in the West of Scotland with ARCHIE-WeSt

The ARCHIE-WeSt High Performance Computer. Image credit: Stephen Calderwood, University of Strathclyde

ARCHIE-WeSt is a regional supercomputer centre at the University of Strathclyde dedicated to research excellence and wealth creation in the West of Scotland. Richard Martin explains how the centre is providing High Performance Computing capability for academia, industry and enterprise.

What do think of when you hear the word “Supercomputer”? A massive computer that would fill an aircraft hanger? Machines with names like TITAN churning through simulations of the global climate or galactic collisions? That’s all very impressive, but surely Supercomputers are beyond the reach of most of the Science, Engineering & Digital Media community in Glasgow – right?

Wrong! While there are indeed very large computers like TITAN or TIANHE-2, there are many much more modest machines around - some of which are accessible to almost anyone. One such machine is ARCHIE-WeSt, based at the University of Strathclyde.

A recent report commissioned by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills highlighted the fact that Supercomputing or “High Performance Computing” (HPC) was an essential component of “e-Infrastructure” necessary for the UK to maintain a globally competitive edge. This can benefit all areas of the economy with the potential to add 3% to national GDP within 10 years. As a result, the UK Government has invested in five regional HPC centres, one of which is ARCHIE-WeSt, which are tasked with reaching out to industry as well as providing a resource for academic research.

This has enabled companies such as SgurrEnergy to provide consultancy services to the wind energy sector by performing energy yield predictions and mesoscale wind resource assessment studies for various proposed offshore wind farms off the north and west coasts of France. In the Oil & Gas sector, Weir Services (East Kilbride) have been able to use ARCHIE-WeSt to model pumps at a size and resolution that was previously beyond the scope of the workstations they had available.

Therefore, HPC centres like ARCHIE-WeSt can provide a “leg-up” for SME’s or companies with a computational requirement, whether in simulation or data processing, by providing a computational resource, either to do something just a bit bigger than would otherwise be possible, or even just many instances of relatively modest tasks. In either case, HPC has the potential to increase the productivity of companies in the West of Scotland – and this can be done remotely from the comfort of the office!

But it’s not only the traditionally computationally intensive fields of Science and Engineering that can benefit from HPC, but other areas as diverse as Life Science, data intensive initiatives such as the Institute for Future Cities and Digital Media.

Part of ARCHIE is configured to run as a “Render Farm” and was used by the Digital Design Studio of Glasgow School of Art to produce a 270o immersive 3D re-enactment of the battle of Bannockburn for the Bannockburn Visitor Centre using the industry standard Autodesk 3DS Max package. Other local Digital Media users include Sundstedt Animation.

ARCHIE rendered the 160,000 frame 3D re-enactment of the battle of Bannockburn. Image credit: Jared Benjamin, Digital Design Studio, Glasgow School of Art.

ARCHIE rendered the 160,000 frame 3D re-enactment of the battle of Bannockburn. Image credit: Jared Benjamin, Digital Design Studio, Glasgow School of Art.

Therefore, as well as running bespoke software, ARCHIE-WeSt can also run almost any piece of software including industry standard packages such as the aforementioned Autodesk 3DS Max, Adobe After Effects, ANSYS, Matlab, Mathematica, COMSOL, Abaqus, STARCCM+, R, Python and more or less any open source package you care to mention. In addition to providing access, ARCHIE-WeSt will also provide the necessary training to enable new users to get up and running.

As part of the University of Strathclyde Engage Week, ARCHIE-WeSt is holding the event “Increase Your Productivity Using High performance Computing” on Wednesday 6th May at 12pm. Why not come along and find out how you can benefit from ARCHIE?


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