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A major project to create a supercomputing network connecting locations across Wales has been in the works for a while now, as part of the ‘economic regeneration’ effort by the Welsh Assembly Government, and it’s something I’ve been waiting to see happen since 2004, around the time I made an extremely low-budget attempt at the same thing with a Linux cluster and an old Cray system in Germany.

While there are existing massively parallel computers installed at one or two universities, the infrastructure doesn’t yet exist in Wales for a distributed/grid computing model. What’s needed is a wide area low-latency network, clusters installed at a number of sites, and the software to manage the resources.
So a number of organisations have invested in the creation of this, and the University of Wales and the St David’s Day Group are leading the High Performance Computing (HPC) Wales project.

Last week Fujitsu, which already runs the RIKEN facility in Japan, won a £15 million contract to provide and install most of the infrastructure for the network, after putting forward a solution that would make the resources available to a broad range of public and private users. The creation of a research institute, some kind of academy and an outreach programme were also mentioned, which will provide trained staff to mantain the network and keep it running, in addition to those already involved in the project.

Although the details are a little vague at the moment, it looks like the network will have the following:
– The main hubs located at Cardiff and Swansea.
– Sub networks at Swansea, Aberystwyth, Bangor and the University of Glamorgan.
– Centres at the University of Wales sites, including Newport.
– An institute providing the training to operate and maintain the system.
– Some connection to JANET.

In all, there will be roughly 1,400 nodes installed at eight sites, and the estimated performace will be around 190TF. Hopefully it will also be scalable.

Such a network has the potential to make quite an economic impact in pretty much all of Wales, bringing the universities and industry closer together. At the very least, it will create new businesses and an estimated 400+ jobs, some of which will only be possible because of the access to some form of supercomputing for the research and development. It’s also very likely to attract businesses from elsewhere. I’ve heard a figure of £23 million for the amount it will bring to the economy over the next 10 years.
A Fujitsu spokesman said: ‘Our work with HPC Wales will be one of the most significant enterprise-class grid systems in Europe today and will be Fujitsu’s largest HPC project in Europe’ and ‘We’re confident that our work with HPC Wales will bring significant technology, skills, research, jobs and economic development to the region’.

For more information, visit www.hpcwales.co.uk