Full steam ahead for GW4’s ‘Isambard’ supercomputer

November 13, 2017

Key milestones complete including the supercomputer’s first hackathon and a global product launch

GW4’s world-first supercomputer, Isambard, continues to build momentum with a number of major milestones achieved.

The high performance computing initiative was recently shortlisted for a Times Higher Education Award, under the category of ‘Technological Innovation of the Year’, and has also run its first hackathon. Leader of the project and Professor of High Performance Computing at the University of Bristol, Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith, will this week take part in a global supercomputing conference to present Isambard’s latest progress.

Isambard is a collaboration between GW4 universities (Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter), Cray Inc.(an American supercomputer manufacturer with its UK headquarters in Bristol) and the Met Office. This unique service will provide multiple advanced architectures within the same system in order to enable evaluation and comparison across a diverse range of hardware platforms. This will enable scientists to determine which architecture best suits their needs.

Global product launch

Today Cray announced at the global Super Computing 2017 conference that it is creating the world’s first production-ready, Arm-based supercomputer, and that Isambard is one of the first supercomputing initiatives to use this new technology.

“The GW4 Isambard project aims to deliver the world’s first Arm-based, production-quality HPC service,” said Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith. “Ease of use, robustness, and performance, are all critical for a production service, and our early experiences are very promising.”

Professor McIntosh-Smith will present Isambard’s performance results at the conference and will take part in panel debates on the future of Arm-based supercomputing.

First hackathon

The Isambard team ran their first hackathon at Cray’s UK headquarters in Bristol on 2-3 November 2017. The event attracted over 30 software developers from collaborators GW4, Met Office and Cray, as well as international institutions including the University of Vienna, ETH Zürich and KTH Stockholm. Significant technical progress was achieved, and the hackathon culminated in a celebratory dinner on Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s famous ship, the SS Great Britain.

The hackathon was jointly supported by a GW4 Accelerator grant and Cray Inc.

Professor James Davenport, GW4 PI and Professor of Computer Science at University of Bath said: “The success of the GW4/Cray-funded hackathon shows that the GW4 grouping can bring together a critical mass of researchers, attract research software developers from across Europe to attend the hackathon, and produce a range of results that no single site could have produced. It puts the GW4 hi-tech area, including the Met Office and Cray’s EMEA Research Laboratory in Bristol, firmly on the world’s supercomputing map.”

Following the huge success of Isambard’s first hackathon, plans are already being made for a second hackathon in 2018.

Find more information about GW4’s supercomputer, Isambard: gw4.ac.uk/isambard/