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Industry: Education
Location: Ireland
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Irish Centre for High-End Computing deploys the Fionn supercomputer with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server


  • Boosted stability, performance and computational power
  • Enabled users to perform more complex and demanding research and development activities
  • Contributed to optimal price-performance through small OS footprint


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ICHEC provides supercomputing facilities to research and academic communities and extends both the computational science expertise and IT skills-base of Ireland. ICHEC serves, and shares expertise with, the com­mercial sector, particularly small and me­dium enterprises (SMEs). The organization also aligns itself with and participates ac­tively in EU-wide high-performance com­puting (HPC) consortia, helping the broader academic community.


The Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) wanted to stay at the forefront of Ireland’s computational expertise by delivering top-quality technology ser­vices and support to universities and enterprises. To achieve this, ICHEC need­ed a new supercomputer, running a stable, reliable and high-performance operating system. ICHEC deployed the Fionn supercomputer with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), and is now able to meet varied and demanding require­ments from academic and business us­ers alike.

The Challenge

ICHEC caters for an extremely broad range of computing requirements from universities, research institutions, enterprises and SMEs. It also faces tight budgetary constraints, so price-performance is a key criterion in the selection of supercomputing resources.

ICHEC’s existing HPC solutions—including the Stokes supercomputer—were approaching obsolescence and could no longer support increasing demand.

Lack of consolidation was another issue, as Niall Wilson, infrastructure manager at ICHEC said: “Our main supercomputer, Stokes, was a distributed-memory ma­chine, and we also ran other systems us­ing different architectures. Managing mul­tiple machines was relatively inefficient, and made it hard for research teams to run projects requiring more than one architec­ture.”

“The powerful combination of SGI hardware and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server translates into unmatched availability, reliability and performance.”

SUSE Solution

ICHEC engaged several vendors in a com­petitive dialogue to find the best solution. “We wanted a supercomputer that could consolidate the four different architectures that we manage, with a strong preference for keeping the same open source sched­uling environment for workload assign­ment,” said Niall Wilson.

Based on the solution’s superior price-per­formance, ICHEC deployed Fionn, a super­computer built on SGI ICE X hardware run­ning SLES. On implementing Fionn, ICHEC was funded by Intel to work on its new ma­ny-core technology as one of only a small number of official Intel Parallel Computing Centers.

Ranked first for power-efficiency among x86 supercomputers on, Fionn is a heterogeneous machine featuring four architectural components: Thin, Hybrid, Fat and Service. The Thin component (a 320- node SGI ICE X system) alone quadruples the computing resources available to scientists in Ireland, and offers the latest Intel Ivy Bridge processors. The Hybrid component includes both Xeon Phi and NVIDIA Tesla accelerators, while Fat provides a large shared-memory facility. Finally, Service provides job sched­uling and data backup services using the Lustre file system.

Fionn will run non-stop for the next four years, providing an estimated 295,000,000 CPU hours. For provisioning and manage­ment, ICHEC uses SGI ProPack and Manage­ment Center, a suite of tools and libraries that drive the highest application perfor­mance on Linux, optimized for SLES.

“SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is the ideal operating system for Fionn: it has a real lightness of touch, and doesn’t get in the way of the computational workload,” said Niall Wilson. “It features great tools for set up and configuration, like YaST, but gives us the flexibility to use other tools, which sim­plifies maintenance. In our view, SUSE’s dis­tribution of Linux is very well suited to high-performance computing.”

In addition to serving the academic community both in Ireland and across the EU, Fionn is employed by SMEs for Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) proj­ects, which simulate the interaction of liq­uids and gases with surfaces.

The Results

Combining SLES with SGI hardware, Fionn has dramatically increased the stability, performance and computational capac­ity of ICHEC’s supercomputing resources. Uniting four separate architectures, Fionn also enables significant operational cost savings.

“The stability of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is impressive: Fionn has been running for months on end, with no deterioration in performance, which helps keep manage­ment costs down,” said Niall Wilson. “This stability also ensures that we can continue to support Met Éireann in running the na­tional weather forecasts.”

ICHEC’s users can now perform significantly more demanding computations, enabling increased resolution in weather and climate forecasting, and larger and longer-running simulations in areas such as medical device development, nanotechnology, genomics and drug design. Fionn also makes it easier for research teams to use heterogeneous approaches—for example, running a large in-memory database on the shared-memory component alongside intensive computation on the distributed-memory component.

“Thanks in part to SLES, ICHEC has been able to help Irish oil exploration company Tullow Oil to develop next generation scalable models for discovering new drilling sites,” said Niall Wilson. “Having an advanced col­laborative platform like Fionn to co-develop new analysis algorithms and test scalability enables ICHEC to help industry to develop competitive new applications. These kinds of benefits drive real value from our invest­ment in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.”