Bristol powers up its latest multi-million pound supercomputer

Over 260,652 processing cores in ten racks
26th May 2017

The University of Bristol has powered up its latest supercomputer, offering three times more performance than its predecessor.

“Research that used to take a month now takes a week, and what took a week now only takes a few hours”


Designed, integrated and configured by OCF, the BlueCrystal4 (BC4) can deliver over 600 trillion calculations per second to over 1000 researchers across the campus.

“High performance computing is involved in all parts of daily life whether you know it or not, from the design of aeroplanes, drugs and electronics to financial trading, and it is central to the research activities of the university,” said Simon Burbidge, the University’s new Director of Advanced Computing, who has just joined from Imperial College, London.

Simon Burbidge, the University's new Director of Advanced Computing at the BC4 launch

Launching the BC4: Simon Burbidge, the University’s new Director of Advanced Computing

He added: “We provide the hardware, software and tools that is needed to run the systems and make them useable to the people doing the research, including expert help in programming and optimisation to make their programmes run faster and better.”

Supercomputing stats

BC4 consists of 525 compute nodes from Lenovo (formerly IBM), each node with two 14-core 2.4 GHz Intel Broadwell CPUs with 128 GBytes of RAM. It also includes 32 nodes of graphics processors for highly parallel applications such as computational fluid dynamics, simulations or machine learning. The GPU nodes use two of Nvidia’s Pascal P100 GPUs, each with six processors and 3840 graphics cores.

This gives BC4 14,892 general purpose processor and a total of 260,652 processing cores for performance of 600TFLOP/s (which puts the supercomputer at number 301 in the world’s top 500).

The nodes are connected by several high-speed networks, the fastest of which is a two-level Intel Omni-Path Architecture network running at 100Gb/s. One PetaByte disk drive from DDN is used for storage running software from IBM. The operating system is CentOS Linux.

The ten racks that make up the system are hosted by Virtus in a shared data centre in Slough and connected via the JANET academic high speed network. The site hosts supercomputers from 22 universities and researcher organisations, including Imperial, UCL and Kings College, London. One of the advantages is that there are opportunities to share computing resources for big projects.

“It is ten years almost to the day that phase one of BlueCrystal was commissioned and we are celebrating phase four which keeps the University of Bristol at the absolute forefront of high performance computing in the UK and internationally, and that is an integral part of the university’s mission in research and business,” said Prof Adrian Mulholland, chair of the HPC executive that oversees the operation of the supercomputer.

“This new supercomputer reinforces Bristol’s position as one of the leading centres for HPC in the world”


Researchers from many different departments use the high performance computing (HPC) system, from paleobiology, biochemistry, physics, molecular modelling and life sciences to aerospace engineering. “This new supercomputer reinforces Bristol’s position as one of the leading centres for HPC in the world.  Over the past 10 years, its role in world-leading, often life-saving research, has become even more evident and we’re committed to staying ahead of the game,” said Professor Nishan Canagarajah, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of Bristol.

The University of Bristol has invested £16 million in High Performance Computing (HPC) and research data storage in the 10 years since the original BlueCrystal was installed in the Tank room above the Physics Department.

“Early benchmarking is showing that the new system is three times faster than our previous cluster – research that used to take a month now takes a week, and what took a week now only takes a few hours,” said Dr Christopher Woods, EPSRC Research Software Engineer Fellow at the University of Bristol. “That’s a massive improvement that’ll be a great benefit to research at the University.”

You can see more at the website for the Advanced Computing Research Centre which looks after BC4.