Supercomputer for Newcastle University

The £2million investment will be the first university-wide service for High Performance Computing (HPC)

Researchers at Newcastle University are benefitting from a new HPC machine, called Rocket. Newcastle University has purchased a centralised HPC system to support all researchers across the University and replace existing departmental clusters as they come to end of life. The new HPC system is designed by computer services company OCF. The £2 million investment is funded by the university, supporting its dedication to providing research facilities for its existing academics and attracting new researchers to the university.

With Rocket, the university aims to establish a ‘HPC culture’, encouraging cross-departmental research and collaboration and helping it remain an exceptional research institution. Over 200 users are already benefitting from Rocket, including academics, researchers, staff and students from over 15 university departments.

“Workloads are driving an ever-growing set of data intensive challenges that can only be met with accelerated infrastructure,” said Werner Hofer, Dean of Research & Innovation at Newcastle University. “Rocket provides the significant memory and fast processing we need for bulky, complex numerical computation. My post-doctoral researcher was able to process half a million CPU hours’ worth of calculations which was not at all possible with our previous processing power.”

Rocket in action

  • Assessing the extent of changes in flood simulation can now be simulated in 11 hours rather than 18 days on a desktop computer.
  • Brain geometry which used to take the equivalent of 270 people years can now be performed in just a few hours.
  • Drug testing can be done with preliminary ‘in silicon’ research rather than ‘in vitro’, significantly reducing the need for animal research as computational chemistry is used to model and predict compounds which will be effective drugs.
  • Identifying genetic mutation in genomes arising in cancerous cells. With Rocket, the run time for 30 genomes is now 12 hours compared to 28 days if it was run on a single core. The pipeline identified 100% of cancer-causing mutations creating the potential for more accurate and faster diagnosis.

Overall, this is a significant improvement on what was previously achievable with departmental HPC clusters, meaning researchers can now run much larger problems, getting more immediate answers to a range of “what if” scenarios.

“With OCF’s experience in managing large-scale data challenges, we knew we could put in place the right technology and services to support Newcastle University’s research work, both now and in the future,’ said Julian Fielden, Managing Director of OCF. “Rocket will help the University to remain a leading academic establishment globally, and continue to attract world-class researchers, as well as much needed grants and funding to continue with their research excellence.”  

The pilot phase for Rocket began in September 2017 and it went live on 31 October 2017. See here for further information about Rocket, and here for a video of university staff introducing Rocket.