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When stories about high-performance computing (HPC) hit the press, they often come with big headlines. Computers beating humans at chess, sequencing the human genome, or crunching the big data that helps scientists discover the origins of the universe. But this HPC story is a little different.
We often associate HPC with corridors of blinking servers in a university data centre, looked after by a team of dedicated experts and only available to the world’s top researchers. Cambridge University is looking to change all that. Sure, it has the rows of blinking servers (Dell PowerEdge, powered by Intel® of course), but it’s not hogging all those teraflops for itself. It has a mandate to make its HPC Solution Centre available to U.K. small businesses in order to boost their research capacity and, in turn, give the country’s knowledge economy a helping hand.
According to the U.K. government*, one-third of productivity growth between 2000 and 2008 was due to technological changes driven by science and innovation. And small businesses that innovate have much lower failure rates and perform better in export markets. However, many of these companies have traditionally found it difficult to access HPC facilities due to the high cost of resources and lack of specialist skills.
Now, small businesses like software firm Zenotech can access the HPC power they need via the cloud. It can perform R&D at a scale to develop products that are unique for its customers. Co-Founder and Director Jamil Appa says: “Working with the University of Cambridge […] has enabled us to prove the technology, which has subsequently created great interest among our customers.”
The university hopes that harnessing the cloud to access compute services, as well as developing data analytics techniques and methodologies will help it become future ready. Dr Paul Calleja, Deputy Director, Research & Institutional Services at the University of Cambridge, says: “For us, the future means the application of cloud technologies, focusing on data analytics and big data.”
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*Innovation and the U.K.’s knowledge economy, published speech, 22 July 2014