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Durham University

Advanced Research Computing

Northern Intensive Computing Environment

Dr Alan Real, Technical Director of N8 CIR and Director of NICE said,'This supercomputer will increase the diversity of platforms available to the UK research community, expanding data sizes for accelerated simulation and analysis codes, and providing a route to exascale computing. Investments in STFC's IRIS will be leveraged across the partnership and beyond to connect the facility to experimental apparatus for optimal data flows.'

The Northern Intensive Computing Environment (NICE) supercomputer will be based in Durham and will be used by the N8 Research Partnership of leading universities in the North of England.

NICE will make it easier to use machine learning alongside traditional modelling and simulation to better understand the vast datasets that are generated by experimentalists at national facilities such as Diamond and the Henry Royce Institute or international facilities including the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility.

It will comprise 32 IBM Power 9 dual-CPU nodes, each with 4 NVIDIA V100 GPUs and high performance interconnect. This is the same architecture as the US government’s SUMMIT and SIERRA supercomputers which occupied the top two places in a recently published list of the world’s fastest supercomputers. An additional 6 nodes will use T4 and FPGA technology targeted towards AI inference, to improve error estimation and robust prediction. This architecture supports memory coherence between the GPU and CPU and a hierarchy of interconnects to allow effective distributed GPU use, extending problem sizes that can be tackled beyond that of other GPU-accelerated architectures.

The N8 partnership is supporting all operational costs including dedicated research software engineering support at each institution to help with user training, code porting and optimisation, to maximise the benefit of this new computing resource.

Machine learning

NICE will allow greater understanding of data, such as the great volumes being generated from experiments and found in digital collections across the UK, by providing a platform where machine learning, models and simulation can be combined, allowing better explanations of Artificial Intelligence.

Among its many uses, the supercomputer will help scientists to advance imagining techniques to produce the next generation of X-ray instruments.

Students will also benefit by working on deep learning techniques – artificial intelligence that imitates the human brain when processing data – at the interface of computer calculations and HPC.

Supercomputer technology

Professor Colin Bain, Vice-Provost (Research), said: “Durham is already an international centre for supercomputer technology, hosting the COSMA supercomputer, which is at the forefront of research that is unravelling the mysteries of the universe.

“Our expertise in supercomputers is well-established and we are delighted to host the NICE service, on behalf of the N8 Research Partnership, which will underpin advances in the application of machine learning to the analysis of experimental data.”

The NICE supercomputer is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation. It’s hosted by Durham on behalf of the N8 Research Partnership