Unlocking the Secrets of the Universe with HPC

Drawing on the power of high-performance computing, scientists at Durham University are expanding our understanding on the universe and its origins.

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Dell EMC

In scientific circles, everyone knows that more computing power can lead to bigger discoveries. This is the case at Durham University in the U.K., which is unlocking insights into our universe with a powerful HPC cluster from Dell EMC.

Durham University is part of DiRAC, a distributed U.K. national HPC facility that encompasses four academic institutions. DiRAC, which stands for “Distributed Research using Advanced Computing,” is devoted to theoretical modeling and HPC-based research in particle physics, astrophysics, cosmology and nuclear physics, all areas in which the U.K. excels. DiRAC arms researchers with a variety of compute resources, matching machine architecture to the algorithm design and requirements of the research problems to be solved.

The DiRAC@Durham piece of this distributed supercomputing facility is a memory-intensive system. The latest iteration of this system, called COSMA7, went into service in May 2018. It was delivered by Dell EMC and installed by Alces Flight, a U.K. company specializing in HPC software for scientists, engineers and researchers.

COSMA7 has all the right stuff for unlocking the secrets of the universe. It’s based on 4,116 Intel® Xeon® Skylake 5120 cores and Mellanox EDR networking. It incorporates 110 TB of RAM, 1.8 PB of data storage, and a fast check-pointing I/O system with peak performance of 185 GB/sec write and read.1

This kind of HPC horsepower helps scientists solve really big problems. It is enabling researchers to run simulations that produce hundreds of terabytes of data and to do calculations that are 10 times the size of those they have been able to do in the past, according to Dr. Lydia Heck, DiRAC Technical Manager at the Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University.

“The new Dell EMC and Intel technology allows us to do more intricate research in an affordable way — and to host a direct memory-intensive system,” Dr. Heck notes in a new video that showcases the COSMA7 cluster.

DiRAC has driven countless big discoveries about our universe. It’s safe to say that we can expect much more of the same in the months and years ahead. When we arm brilliant scientific minds with HPC systems like COSMA7, the boundaries of space and time all but melt away, because we can suddenly see back in time.

“With big supercomputers today, we are able to simulate the evolution of the universe, the formation of galaxies,” says Professor Carlos Frenk, director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University. “We will soon be able to simulate the formation of planets, and perhaps one day the evolution of life.”

For a closer look at this stellar story of the power of HPC in the hands of really smart scientists, check out our Durham University and DiRAC video.

[1] Dr. Lydia Heck, Institute for Computational Cosmology, Durham University, “DiRAC@Durham: The Memory Intensive System,” May 7, 2018.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.