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IT’s Dynamic: Viglen Powers High Performance Computing at The University of Hertfordshire

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The University of Hertfordshire’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences is a pioneering British institution. Helping shape tomorrow’s engineering applications in aero and auto engines, maritime, oil safety and ventilation systems, it leads the world in understanding fluid mechanics; the complex characteristics of liquid and air flows. In 2002 it selected Viglen to help develop it’s first High Performance Computing Cluster (HPC). Now two years on, it is poised to acquire even more computational muscle from Viglen.

Innovative Past. High-tech Future

The University of Hertfordshire has it’s origins in Hatfield Technical College, founded over fifty years ago. In 1969, the college became Hatfield Polytechnic and was awarded university status in 1992. Now, still on the same campus as its pioneering predecessor but ambitiously expanded in state-of-the-art accommodation it caters for some 20,000 students of whom over 2,000 are in postgraduate research or study.

The University’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences can boast several centres of excellence, including the Department of Aerospace, Automotive & Design Engineering, where over 1,000 students are immersed in state-of-the art learning and leading-edge research in specialist areas such as it’s Fluid Mechanics Research Group.

The Faculty is also home to the Science and Technology Research Centre (STRC), which is the University’s largest dedicated research facility and occupies more than 1800 square metres of laboratory and office accommodation on it’s main campus. The STRC currently houses more than 100 full-time researchers providing high-level input into UK government, EU and privately funded industrial projects. Deep inside the facility, a Viglen HPC is in use round the clock.

Turbulence Ahead

Dr de With, an expert in Turbulence Modelling, was heavily involved in assembling the Department’s first High Performance Cluster of eight Viglen workstations back in 2002.

“The world moves on, and new advances in hardware and software means that we have an ongoing need for increased processing resources to keep pace with additional projects”.
“This cluster has enabled us to do so much more and as a result there’s increased demand for its use. We are nearly running a full-time, 24-hour a day operation with close to 100% computer usage.”
Dr Govert de With
High Performance Computing Builds Virtual Wind Tunnels

Dr de With’s department is pioneering in the field of Computational Fluid Dynamics, using powerful processing and software to characterise the behaviour of liquid and air flows, most of which are affected in some way by turbulence.

Using many individual points or ‘nodes’ on 3D models to predict individual velocities and pressures, it’s possible to build what Dr de With calls a “computational wind tunnel” to accurately predict real-life flow fields. The most complex models require millions of nodes arrayed in a dynamic grid, requiring a quantum leap in computing power previously only available to the owners of supercomputers.

Now, High Performance Clustering puts a step-change in pure processing power into the hands of academics and researchers at a fraction of the cost and operational complexity of traditional supercomputers.

The Department’s existing £30,000 HPC — a cluster of eight Viglen LX245 dual Intel® Xeon™ 2GHz processor workstations was acquired eighteen months ago and is housed in a standard academic office environment. Networked using a gigabit Ethernet and clustered using Linux Beowulf technology, the Viglen machines employ Open PBS software to schedule and assign tasks.
“The existing cluster enables us to run large-scale simulations we haven’t been able to do before,” comments Dr Govert de With, “with up to 15 million nodes in one particular project which analysed air flows around the nose-cone of an aero engine”.

Next Generation Clustering

The Department is moving ahead apace. It is already planning a second, more powerful £30,000 cluster from Viglen to enable it to separate-out pure in-house research from that intended for its industrial partners.

This next-generation cluster, scheduled for installation in the Summer of 2004, will comprise a further ten Viglen workstations with 2.8GHz dual Intel® Xeon® processors, rack mounted together as ‘headless’ PCs in a dedicated, air-conditioned machine room.

Underpinned by enhanced backup facilities and UPS provision, the new Hertfordshire HPC will enable the Department to incorporate time-dependent phenomena into its calculations, enabling more accurate and realistic results over time.

Price Competitive

“What attracted our Research Centre to Viglen in the first instance was, in short, it’s extremely positive value: quality ratio... it’s combination of powerful computers at a good price,” reflects Dr de With.

“Additionally, the hardware reliability has been very good indeed... we have had no hardware failures in two years. We also experienced Viglen’s hands-on support right at the outset to resolve a niggle in installation that was put right immediately and caused us no further trouble.
Our decision to go with Viglen once again is a price competitive one. There’s no doubt that High Performance Computing is much more competitive than the more expensive ‘supercomputing’ route.
With HPC you get the same order of computing magnitude made available for a fraction of the price, this is particularly important in academic research where there is intense competition for funding resources, so cost-effectiveness is an absolute priority”.


Collaborative Approach

Reflecting on Viglen’s developing array of specialist HPC solutions at the University of Hertfordshire, Viglen Chief Executive Bordan Tkachuk observes:

“Viglen’s evolving relationship with the University of Hertfordshire and the Science and Technology Research Centre is a clear reflection of our understanding of the rapidly evolving market for High Performance Computing in Higher Education and cutting-edge research.
Our collaborative approach and candid attitude towards sharing expertise to strengthen and better teaching and learning is already delivering benefits at the University and will intensify with the installation of a second cluster in the summer ahead.”


Tooled-up for the Future

In 2002 the University of Hertfordshire embarked on one of the most ambitious and inspiring construction projects in Higher Education in the UK. The current academic year saw the opening of the new £120m de Havilland campus in Hatfield, with unrivalled facilities for teaching and learning, including a high tech Learning Resources Centre (LRC) open 24/7 with 1,075 study places, all with Internet access. The new de Havilland LRC complements the existing College Lane facility, delivering a total of over 2,600 personal study spaces.

Dr de With is looking forward to summer 2004 and to doubling the computational capacity within his reach. More and better cluster management software is also becoming available, as is software to run complex research applications in the Linux operating system.

He speaks positively about the prospects of longer-term “friendly collaboration” with Viglen that could see prospective Viglen HPC customers witnessing clustering in action for themselves at Hatfield. In the interim, he is full of praise for the step-change achieved so far:

“I’m pleased that Viglen has recognised the importance of High Performance Computing”, he says, “ the process of assembling our clusters, Viglen has been able to provide us with genuinely useful insight and advice”.