Supercomputer at University of Southampton enters TOP500

Iridis is a 1,300 Teraflop system and is revolutionising the research in fields like medicine, physics and computer science

Researchers from the University of Southampton are benefitting from a new High-Performance Computing (HPC) machine named Iridis. 

The supercomputer has – in its first year of operation – been ranked on the TOP500, reaching 251 on the list. The table shows the 500 most powerful commercially available computer systems in the world.

Oz Parchment, Director of iSolutions, at the University of Southampton said: “We’re purposefully embracing more researchers and disciplines than ever before at the University, which brings a lot of competing demands.” 

“The University of Southampton has a long tradition in the use of computational techniques”, Parchment continued, “stretching back to 1959 when our researchers first used modelling techniques on the design of Sydney Opera House. Data and analysis using computational methods are at the heart of modern science and technology and, in order to attract the best world-class researchers, we need world-class research facilities.”

The new 1,300 Teraflop system was designed, integrated and configured by OCF. OCF specialises in supporting the significant big data challenges of private and public UK organisations. They now work with over 20% of the UK’s Universities and Research Councils. 

Iridis 5 is substantially bigger and faster than its previous iteration – it is well ahead of any other computer at any UK University for the types of calculations we’re doing

Over the past decade, the University of Southampton has seen a 425% increase in the number of research projects requiring HPC services in fields as diverse as engineering, chemistry, physics, medicine and computer science. 

Sandy Wright, Principal Research Engineer at the University’s Wolfson Unit said: “We have a worldwide customer base which includes worked with the British Cycling Team for the last three Olympic Games.”

Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) has become a viable project which reduces the need for physical experimentation. “CFD gives as good an answer as the wind tunnel,” Wright continued, “so you can speed up research whilst reducing costs. Iridis 5 will enable the Wolfson Unit to get more accurate results.”

Syma Khalid, Professor of Computational Biophysics at the University concurred: “Our research focuses on understanding how biological membranes function – we use HPC to develop models to predict how membranes protect bacteria. We aim to understand how they do this at the molecular level. The new insights we gain from our HPC studies have the potential to inform the development of novel antibiotics. Iridis 5 is substantially bigger and faster than its previous iteration – it is well ahead of any other computer at any UK University for the types of calculations we’re doing.”

Four times more powerful than the University’s previous HPC system, Iridis comprises more than 20,000 Intel Skylake cores on a next generation Lenovo ThinkSystem SD530 server – the first UK installation of the hardware. 

Julian Fielden, Managing Director of OCF added: “Academia really is feeling the pressure in attracting new researchers, groups, and grants. Competition has never been fiercer. Throughout our 13-year relationship with the University of Southampton, it has had the determination and ambition to compete internationally and, critically, provide the HPC, Cloud, and Data Analytics services that world-class researcher’s desire”.