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Data Sustainability in HPC

The University of York’s Data Discoveries series is addressing all aspects of the input we create and generate in large-scale computing and storage.

In the world of High Performance Computing (HPC) there are four key factors in making a supercomputer run: hardware, software, people, and the need for positive change. Flowing through all of these factors is data, the information gathered, sorted, and processed to solve the complex problems our field seeks to address.

But with machines so large, and data sets so overwhelming, how can we begin to tackle these challenges? Even more, how can we be sure that our approach to tackling these challenges won’t cause more problems in their wake? This is what the University of York seeks to address over a two week series dedicated to looking at all aspects of data.

The Alces Flight team was invited to their kick-off event on June 19th to discuss how we, along with the Viking HPC Cluster team, is seeking to tackle large-scale computing and storage at the university. Thanks to our incredible partnership with the Research Computing Team not only are we looking at HPC from a renewable energy standpoint, but we were also able to present on our open-source HPC environment project, OpenFlightHPC.

Defining Sustainability

Sustainability can be defined in many ways, and for the Alces Flight crew we see it as both the means of seeking out long-term solutions and the reduction of ecological impact on our planet. Creating a sustainable solution in HPC requires collaboration and compromise. As integrators and managed service providers we understand the value of bringing together the right people and products to solve problems, and this requires thought and patience as we work towards goals that seek to go beyond just net zero.

Open-Source for Long-Term Software Sustainability

One of the ways we seek sustainability within our field is through creating agnostic HPC environments through our OpenFlightHPC project. By not aligning to a specific platform we are able to build in the flexibility our clients and community need to work as efficiently as possible within the HPC space. This can best be demonstrated with the emergence of AI and ML in supercomputing. With the need for projects to move closer to resources, especially those requiring an interactive element, the utilisation of an agnostic toolset is ideal. Within the University of York the Department of Psychology leveraged this approach in the exploration of “hidden markers” to detect the early signs of breast cancer in women. By being able to get the most out of each platform the team was able to quickly assess potential neural networking models and build a case for utilising them in cancer diagnosis. We were pleased to contribute by providing an environment that moved with them, enabling the researchers to focus on getting their evaluations run and less on having to learn how to operate on different platforms.

The Renewable Future for Viking HPC

By the end of 2023 the next phase of our work with the Research Computing team will take us into the renewable energy space and our new partnership with the team at EcoDataCenter. This team, located in Sweden, run off a model of circularity within their data center. What that means is they look at all the ways energy can be conserved and re-used. Over the next generation of Viking we are excited to explore power and cooling in-depth, as well as Viking’s hardware lifecycle. We look forward to sharing our findings with our clients and community and cannot wait to get started.

Viking HPC and the Research Software Engineering (RSE) Movement

While the Flight Crew spoke more about the physical side of sustainability on June 27th Data Discoveries will welcome the Research Computing team to talk about their people. Included in their talk will be highlights on their RSE team, whose job is to transform research into sustainable practice, insuring that future work can develop from the insights made today. Tickets to the talk are free and open to the public. If you would like to know more about what a RSE does then check out the UK Society of Research Software Engineering.

Beyond HPC at Data Discoveries

Data Discoveries aims to explore all aspects of data over the coming two weeks including talks on ethics, computing languages, and the impact that data has in transforming our lives. This series is being run by Charlie Head, who is a PhD student of Environmental Sciences and came into HPC in part thanks to the CIUK Student Cluster Challenge.

Get all the information on Data Discoveries 2023 here! Once the event completes the team will be updating the site with presentations — including our own.

Data Discoveries will be exploring both the research and commercial aspects of data and is an in-person event at the University of York running June 19 — June 30, 2023. This event is open to the public. We wish to thank Charlie for the invitation to speak.

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