ARCHER2, a £79 million machine funded by the UK government, is still in a testing period, but already working on real science such as modelling volcanic plumes
A government-funded machine has become the UK’s mightiest supercomputer, with almost triple the power of the Cray XC40 operated by the Met Office to run weather and climate models.
The £79 million ARCHER2 was constructed at the University of Edinburgh’s Advanced Computing Facility. After being switched on in late November, it is now going through a testing period, but is already working on real science such as modelling volcanic plumes.
The computer is constructed of 5860 nodes, each with two AMD processors containing 64 cores. The machine is one of the world’s fastest general-purpose computers based on central processing units (CPUs) rather than graphics cards, which can excel at certain problems. It currently sits at number 22 in the TOP500 list, a global supercomputer ranking.
Simon McIntosh-Smith at the University of Bristol, who worked on ARCHER2, says the bulk of the construction has been completed and the machine is now being tested and fettled. “It’s in its shakedown period now, so you basically let everyone loose on it and they use it for real, and that will help flush out all the remaining teething problems,” he says. “It’s in that period for as long as it takes for us all to get to the point where we’re happy that it’s all nice and stable and mature.”
ARCHER2’s role is to deliver the UK’s National Supercomputing Service, providing a machine that scientists and engineers can apply for time to work on. Although the machine isn’t even officially complete, demand has already been high. “It filled up almost instantly as soon as we opened it,” says McIntosh-Smith. “It’s doing real science.”
Its predecessor, the ARCHER (Advanced Research Computing High End Resource) supercomputer, was due to be replaced in early 2020, but was kept running to work on covid-19. It finally switched off in May 2020 when it was hit by a cyberattack, having tackled everything from fluid dynamics in aircraft engines to wind simulations of the North Sea.
Supercomputer development is advancing at a rapid pace. UK research councils are already making plans for the country’s next-generation supercomputer, with the aim of producing an exa-scale machine by 2025. That would mean a computer more than 51 times as powerful as ARCHER2.
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