In a large hall on Margaretavägen in Lund, next to LDC, the air is full of the hum of computers. The supercomputers Alarik, Erik and Platon – the most powerful in southern Sweden – are busy computing complex problems that Lund University researchers are not able to solve on their own. At the moment, a simulation of a future MAX IV beamline is underway, alongside calculations in astrophysics and data from the Lund University Bioimaging Centre (see related article).
“There are actually quite a lot of LU researchers who don’t know that we exist and are a free resource for all researchers at the University for computation, storage and research visualisation. Everyone’s welcome to get in touch – you don’t need any specialist expertise in the area”, promises Anders Follin, who is technical manager for Lunarc, the name of the competence centre that ‘employs’ the supercomputers.
Lunarc doesn’t only supply hardware, but also expertise and project participation, which makes Lunarc a unique university resource, at least in Sweden.
Lunarc was started in 1986 by researchers in structural mechanics and theoretical and physical chemistry at LTH, but quickly spread to medicine and science as well. Anders Follin also has his roots in structural mechanics, but has worked at Lunarc since 2010 after a number of years in the computer industry. He sees his research background as a clear advantage.
“It means I can quickly familiarise myself with the issues”, he says.
The equipment is continually being replaced and updated. Certain purchases over the years have not been very successful, but most have turned out well, according to Follin. Last spring, the computers were upgraded at a cost of SEK 10–12 million, which will further increase the speed of computation.
However, it is not just about being biggest and fastest. It is also important to be flexible, stresses Anders Follin, who sees user-friendliness and adaptability as a growing need. As more and more disciplines need to be able to deal with big data, the problems become broader.
The services and resources are free of charge, but if additional special equipment is needed to enable a certain type of research data flow, the researchers have to pay for it. Such equipment is sited at Lunarc.
“It works better that way, because certain calculations need quick access to other systems, either here or at other centres in Sweden to which we are connected. Moreover, it is better for the equipment to have it in a monitored and air-conditioned computer hall”, says Anders Follin.
However, the really big calculations, for example in the high-energy physics project WLCG, have to be divided between multiple centres.
“We can’t do everything, unfortunately. The high-energy physics research is a good example of how big data can be dealt with by collaborating at international and European level. At the end of the day, there are few researchers who work with such extremely large quantities of data”, says Anders Follin.
Text: Kristina Lindgärde
Photo: Gunnar Menander