Why Data Centre Collaboration Is Key To Success For UK Research

King’s College London now shares data centre facilities with five other institutions to pool high performance computing power

As one of the top 20 universities globally, King’s College London is dedicated to world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. King’s is a founding partner of a group of universities alongside Jisc – a charity that provides digital solutions for education and research in the UK – that has established the first UK and world collaborative research data centre to drive and maintain the UK as a global research powerhouse.

Time for change

As with many universities across the UK, the data centre facilities at King’s College London were inefficient, with outdated infrastructure and an unsuitable environment for future technology development. The result was an ad-hoc evolution of technology and infrastructure, which was not conducive to the research aspirations of the college.

data centreThis was compounded by the increased need for computational solutions to undertake larger medical research programmes using High Performance Computing (HPC) clusters which handle and analyse large amounts of data at high speed. Tasks that can take months using normal computers can be done in days or even minutes with a HPC platform, making these systems essential for successful research applications.

Nick Leake, CIO at King’s College London, explains: “HPC is fundamentally important for biomedical and mathematical research.”

To overcome some of these challenges, Nick developed various relationships with other research-intensive universities as well as Jisc, the provider of the Janet network that serves 18 million users. Through these conversations a partnership was formed between Jisc, King’s College London and five other institutions including University College London, The Sanger Institute, The Francis Crick Institute, The London School of Economics & Political Science and Queen Mary University of London.

Together, these institutions had a common interest: to create shared facilities in which researchers could collaborate. They also wanted to increase energy efficiency and reduce cost. To meet all of these requirements, Jisc and its institutional partners chose to set up a shared data centre to provide a platform for greater collaboration between universities and other research institutions.

Taking the leap

Following a structured OJEU procurement process, Infinity’s Slough data centre was selected to provide the facilities for the partners to establish the shared facility for education and research.

data centreBen Goodyear, consultant at King’s College London, adds: “The shared data centre meets our needs for both enterprise and research computing. The combination of the space at Infinity, with its highly-efficient power and cooling infrastructure, and the ability to co-locate research data, created a compelling business case for change.”

A prerequisite of the procurement was that any UK university, NHS academic science centre or research institution could also take advantage of the facility if they wished to. Infinity was chosen for its commercial flexibility, along with its agile, resilient and efficient data centre platform, whilst also enabling institutions to fully manage the connectivity of their services.

Jeremy Sharp, director of strategic technologies at Jisc, explains: “For the majority of our founder partners, power flexibility was very important as most work on biomedical and mathematical research, which takes a lot of processing power. We needed a data centre to provide a range of power densities per rack, as well as the flexibility to change the power allocation within the data hall when needed.”

Infinity, through its Infinite Data Centre proposition, is able to handle provision of a range of power densities from 4kW to 30kW per rack. The data centre can quickly cater for periods of high power demand if required by the partners, which is common among those who work on complicated research and require HPC.

Ben continues: “Power provision used to be a major concern for us as HPC is integral to our research and requires racks that can handle peaks of up to 30kW of power to meet the demands of running large research projects.

data centre“We are very happy that we selected Infinity as the provider; of all the companies that entered the procurement process, Infinity clearly demonstrated its capabilities and understanding of the higher education and research sectors.”

King’s College London is the first university to relocate its facilities to the new centre.

Moving to the new facility has allowed King’s College to plan, purchase and combine HPC technology to increase computing power. The team has been able to develop a clear HPC strategy, enabling King’s to provide better HPC facilities for researchers.

Ben continues: “To maximise the investment in the new facility we’ve moved quickly. We are making the most of the excellent facilities at Infinity Slough.”

One for all, all for one

As the founder customers migrate to Infinity’s facilities they are able to combine their resources, enter tenders for larger projects together and improve the results. King’s also foresees other future collaborations between the organisations to advance academic and medical research in the UK.

This is made possible as the combined data centre allows quicker localised connectivity, transforming how universities look at their data centre facilities.

Stuart Sutton, CEO of Infinity, explains how collaboration is possible: “As King’s infrastructure is now hosted in our Slough data centre this allows them to venture into unknown territory. Previously, any teamwork or partnership would have been difficult as collaboration would have required hosting the technology at a university. Now all they have to do is simply connect their technology across the platform and work together. This is genuinely an exciting time for UK universities and we are delighted to be a part of it.”

Jeremy Sharp explains: “This is the first step to increasing collaboration between more universities and colleges. Smaller universities and colleges find it difficult to afford their own data centre facilities; this will provide access to the same level of technology as the larger universities, without the large overheads that go with it.”

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