Research IT

Providing Edge Compute Services for a New National Facility

The Research IT Edge Compute and Satellite Storage service was launched in August, 2020. Find out how we have been helping the National Research Facility for Lab X-ray Computed Tomography to establish a networked computing and data storage facility

The Edge Compute and Satellite Storage Service (ECSS) provides Edge Compute capabilities to the research community for computationally / data-intensive work where use of centrally-hosted platforms is impractical, not appropriate or must be augmented with additional functionality

In this service, dedicated members of our team work closely with researchers and their research groups to design, build and support, for an agreed period of time (usually at least three years) local compute and storage platforms, customised for, and used by only, the group.

The National Research Facility in Lab X-ray Computed Tomography CT was established by EPSRC to provide access to lab X-ray CT scanners and expertise to conduct X-ray CT experiments. The NXCT was launched November 2021 and is a partnership between The University of Manchester, Southampton and Warwick University, UCL and Diamond Light Source bringing together a wide experience in delivering X-ray imaging to researchers. In addition resources to support the storage and analysis of these very large datasets collected is an integral part of the facility.

The challenge the NXCT at Manchester faced was storing, moving and analysing very large X-ray CT datasets in an efficient and effective way. In addition they also required a secure way of making resources available to external users. This is where Research IT could help. We provided support to design and implement a holistic solution which covers a large number of areas of expertise such as data storage, networking, choice of workstations, remote access etc.

Christopher Heely, Mark Lundie and Simon Hood from Research IT worked with Dr Tim Burnett (Director of NXCT) and the NXCT team to ensure compute, storage and support costs were built into his grant application ensuring that, from the start of the project, everything that they needed was in place. The research application also included dedicated support from us at 0.4 FTE for three years ensuring that help and support is always readily available. Since the award of funding we have worked closely with the NXCT team on a detailed IT design to provide:

  • Multiple, high-powered, GPU-based workstations, located in labs in Royce
  • Shared computational resources and "satellite" storage, to be hosted in a dedicated server room within Royce between buildings
  • Multiple 10 Gb/s network connections to the server room - Royce is part of the IT Services Transformed Network and so has a 40 Gb/s link to the rest of campus
  • Data management policy implementation
  • Remote access solutions

Our team also helped to design the local satellite which works as approximately 150 TB of high performance, local data cache and will tier to centrally hosted storage in the ITS data centres. Cold data can then be further tiered to cheaper Cloud-based storage (e.g. Glacier DA).

Installation is continuing with many of the workstations already on site and being commissioned with the storage on order. The server room in the new Royce hub building is being fitted out, with four racks and 40 kW of cooling which will allow for significant growth in compute and storage over the next few years - GPUs run hot!

We are looking forward to working with Tim and the NXCT team to provide the new national facility with all their compute and storage needs. If you have a similar request please get in touch with us to discuss your requirements.