The University of Hull has a reputation as one of Britain’s finest teaching institutions and as a producer of world class research. In 2014, the university decided it needed a High Performance Computing (HPC) solution to support its research work, encourage research investment and position the university as a globally competitive place for researchers to undertake their projects. The challenge was finding the right partner to help assess Hull’s needs and deliver the right solution.
HPC is the use of computer clusters to solve advanced computation problems, saving a significant amount of time compared to running a single machine; a problem that would have taken months to calculate with one server could take mere hours using HPC. Understanding the potential of HPC, but not having any in-house expertise, Graeme Murphy, Head of Research and Enterprise for ICT at Hull, who was in charge of delivering the project, went to market to see who could provide the support he needed. “We understood, as an institution, what HPC could mean for our research investment, so we really needed market experts to help us source and implement something cutting edge.” says Graeme.
The University felt working with expert consultants would be the best solution – the consultants could provide the technical expertise not available in-house, help reduce the risk associated with a considerable financial investment in HPC by the university, and ensure the solution for Hull would have a degree of ‘future-proofing’ and keep pace with the ever-changing environment. The University chose Red Oak Consulting as the university’s delivery partner. Red Oak offers tailored solutions for high-end computer technologies and their applications. Experienced in working with government, industry, research and academia, Graeme felt they brought the right mix of expertise to the table.
Red Oak provided a complete HPC service to the University of Hull – advising on and managing the procurement of hardware, software and other required HPC services. They also helped Hull establish criteria for staff selection and supported the interview process making sure Hull brought in the right staff to support the project internally. The consultancy assisted and supported the University in the development of HPC operational procedures, the invitation to tender and specification and the HPC acceptance testing.
The work that Red Oak and Hull completed on the specification for Hull was then used to support the re-tender for a national Servers, Storage and Solutions Agreement – a framework agreement designed to meet the unique requirements of the higher education sector. As part of the re-tender, Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium (SUPC), the tendering body, wanted to include specific lots that provided HPC solutions – in high demand from many in the HE sector. The specification, parts of which were included in the tender documents, helped encourage key HPC suppliers in the market place to bid; the agreement is estimated to be worth up to £600 million over its four-year lifespan. Now awarded, the agreement includes two lots (3b and 4) which are specifically dedicated to delivering HPC solutions.
The outcome of the project for the University of Hull has been good. Hull has now purchased, installed and conducted user acceptance testing of the complete HPC solution. “Hull’s HPC solution is the top Tier 3 (University) machine for performance in the North of the UK and ranked in the top 10 nationally.”*, says Graeme. His team anticipated a solution that provided 1500 CPUs, but Red Oak’s work delivered 5500 CPUs, providing a ‘solution plus’ for Hull. In addition, the project came in under budget and £130,000 was returned back to the university for re-investment.
“Within its first month of operation, the HPC ran over 100,000 jobs and provided 1.25 million hours of processing for research at Hull.”, notes Graeme. While it’s early days to measure the impact on Hull’s research investment, the implementation of the HPC has already bolstered the university’s reputation: “Hull is now a beacon of success for others looking to implement this type of solution.”