Super computer comes back to Ghent University in 2020

(19-01-2020) Ghent University anticipates a great year in ICT terms. After all, the Tier 1 super computer will return at the end of 2020. In addition, the network hardware in the data centre will be renewed, as the nerve centre of its electronic services.

The Tier 1 super computer – or the ‘super brain’ of the Flemish universities – will return to Ghent University’s data centre at the end of 2020. This is a real honour for our university, to say the least. What exactly does this mean? Johan Van Camp from the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) gives us a clear explanation.

On cloud 9 about Tier 1

A super computer for all Flemish universities is something relatively recent. It was only in the last decade that Flemish universities began using one. Johan Van Camp: “In 2008-2009, the Flemish Government decided to invest in super computers for universities. However, a super computer cannot be stored just anywhere. It requires a space that is properly equipped. In 2010, Ghent University built an adapted data centre for this very purpose. It took one year for the area to become operational and, in 2012, the first super computer was up and running for all Flemish universities. Four years later, Flanders invested in a new model, and this time it was housed in Leuven. Now, as this device approaches the end of its useful life, a new order has been raised. At the end of this year, the new and third Tier 1 super computer will once again be accommodated in Ghent’s data centre. Naturally, at Ghent University, we are very proud of this fact.”

What is so super about a super computer?

Johan Van Camp: “A super computer is actually a huge collection of traditional computers altogether, and comes with software for scientific calculations. It allows calculations to be made more quickly and can solve far more complex problems. A super computer is useful when your CPI (Cycles Per Instruction) fail to keep up or lack sufficient memory. In principle, there is little difference compared with familiar and traditional laptop and desktop systems, only this computer can cope with a lot more.”

“If the data centre goes out of action, the whole university goes down.”

Ghent University works hard to keep the data centre working as efficiently and reliably as possible. That’s why some essential maintenance work is planned in the coming months, causing a number of interruptions to electronic services. Johan Van Camp: “The data centre centralises the entire electronic infrastructure. We use this to serve both staff and students, and to support research, education and administration. After eight years of service, it is now time to replace the network hardware, and we are obliged to install new routers and switches. We cannot afford to take any risks here as, if the data centre went out of action, then literally everything would stop working. In that case, the entire university would go down.” 

The interruptions will take place on Sunday 23 February 2020, plus one other date still to be confirmed in July.

Johan Van Camp: “On this first Sunday, you will notice that the electronic services will be interrupted briefly and alternately, making even mails impossible for a short while. We are trying to limit the impact as much as possible by planning it on a Sunday, however, we are unable to avoid the disruption entirely.”