Wales gets £40m for supercomputing project

The Welsh HPC project will set up supercomputing infrastructure, networks and training facilities in Wales to boost commercially-focused research by businesses and universities
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

Wales is set to receive £40m to build supercomputing resources for research use by businesses and universities in the region.

The High-Performance Computing Wales (HPC Wales) project will use the funding to invest in new supercomputing technology, infrastructure and facilities across Wales, with two major computing hubs at Cardiff and Swansea universities, the Welsh Assembly said in its announcement on Monday.

"HPC Wales has potential to bring about real change. It will have a significant impact on the economy, on increasing R&D, on driving innovation and competitiveness and high-level skills development," Welsh assembly deputy minister for science, innovation and skills Lesley Griffiths said in a announcement for the project.

The HPC Wales scheme was initially announced in 2009 by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), with a budget of £44m. Its aims then were broadly the same as now: job creation and the strengthening of IT for research and development projects.

The project has three strands. The first covers the installation of high-performance computing equipment, infrastructure and distribution networks across Wales. The second will set up a training academy focused on HPC skills, while the third is dedicated to creating an institute that will support businesses and universities in their research and commercial projects.

A number of Welsh academic institutions are involved in the project, including Aberystwyth, Bangor and Glamorgan Universities and University of Wales Alliance Universities.

The hubs at Swansea and Cardiff will link to several 'tier 1' sites at these institutions, which will in turn link to around 10 'tier 2' sites, according to professor Martyn Guest, the director of advanced research computing at Cardiff University.

The "main [HPC] production capabilities will be at the hubs," Guest told ZDNet UK. However, HPC Wales is "not one big box at one site", but a "distributed solution" to help "promote engagement of all Welsh higher education institutions".

There will be a requirement for a minimum connection speed of 100Mbps between tier 1 and tier 2 sites, at least 1Gbps between tier 1 sites and the hubs, and around a 40Gbps link between Cardiff and Swansea, Guest said.

HPC Wales will link in to the UK's government-funded Janet national education and research network, he added."If a given application requires a larger facility, than we have then it can exploit national facilities in the UK," he said.

The project is expected to lead to the creation of 400 new jobs in several industry sectors, the Welsh Assemby said in its announcement. However, it did not specify what kind of jobs these would be or whether they would be permanent posts, as opposed to temporary appointments during construction.

As a direct result of the investment, two new visiting professors have been appointed to Glyndwr University, a Welsh Assembly spokeswoman said. They are Professor Luciano Tarricone, a computational magnetics specialist, and Professor Terry Hewitt, previously the director of research computing at the University of Manchester.

In addition, Guest said that he expects around 20 technical posts will be created within the HPC community, given the five-year timespan of the project and the number of institutions involved.

Funding for HPC Wales comes from a variety of sources, with the brunt (£19m) stemming from the EU's European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), delivered via the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO). Next is £10m from BIS, with £5m from the Welsh Assembly government. Institutions collaborating on the project will pitch in £4m and £2m is expected to come from the private sector and from research income.

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