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Super ALICE ushers in a new wonderland of green computing

31 August 2010 Leicester, University of

Alice, the University of Leicester’s new ‘green’ supercomputer, has been put  into operation. 

The University is aiming to make the £2.2 million facility the most energy efficient in the sector.

Alice is ten times more powerful than the system it replaces, and is expected to help attract high quality researchers and millions of pounds in research grants to Leicester. Researchers will use the high-performance computer to help find the answers to questions ranging from the effects of different government policies on the financial markets to the future of our galaxy.

The new service, supplied by HP, offers computational power equivalent to thousands of desktop PCs by clustering large numbers of central processing units. It will make it possible to analyse much bigger data sets than before, get responses more quickly, and therefore help find the answers to more and different kinds of questions.

High performance computing produces an enormous amount of heat, so keeping the equipment cool is a major challenge. If a traditional cooling solution had been used this would have been both expensive to run and bad for the environment. Instead, the new Leicester computer room will, for the first time, use an advanced water-cooling system -- a bit like a glorified car radiator.

An existing computer room was completely redesigned and re-equipped to accommodate the new groundbreaking Ecofris cooling technology, supplied by Keysource Ltd. It is the first installation of this technology in academia or in any small to medium sized data centre.

Every year the system will save an estimated £130,000 and reduce CO2 emissions by 800 tons compared with the technology it has replaced. The supplier now plans to enter the facility into an international competition to identify the most efficient small data centre in Europe.

Researchers in Leicester’s Physics and Astronomy, Engineering and Economics departments have been piloting the computer, but after its launch this month it will become freely available to any researcher in the University.

Mary Visser, Director of IT services at the university, said: “It’s fascinating to see how researchers work these days – looking for patterns in huge datasets and simulating complex phenomena.

“Usually, you need to be a real techie to engage with this kind of work.  But we have social scientists and economists with big problems to solve who didn’t sign up to be computer programmers. Our team aims to help make the facility accessible for them, too.

She added: “The amount of data produced is going up by around 50 per cent a year, so we need to get much cleverer about how we manage it, make it searchable, and decide what to keep for the next generation. That is a massive challenge for the whole sector – one that calls for new kinds of support and training for researchers at every stage of their careers.”

Attached files

  • The University of Leicester's supercomputer, ALICE. Credit: University of Leicester


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