The University of Strathclyde has turned on a powerful new supercomputer designed to help its Faculty of Engineering tackle complex problems in materials, fluid dynamics and design.

Specified by supplier Esteem Systems using Sun Microsystems kit, the new High-Performance Computer consists of 1,088 computing cores, 100TB of data storage tied to a Quad data rate Infiniband network. Its quoted performance will be 13 Teraflops at peak, equivalent to up to thirteen trillion operations per second.

By the standards of another of the UK’s most powerful supercomputers – the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre’s Cray XT4 farm – this is relatively small. That system, dubbed ‘HECToR’ (High-End Computing Terascale Resource) can reach peak number crunching of 321Terflops based on the spec quoted on the EPPC website, but then again that installation cost £113 million to build.

Strathclyde’s more modest HPC had a much more modest bill of £500,000, and defines its power in term of the clustering of Sun HPC servers into a single logical computing unit. As important as the processing power for the HPC is the use of Sun’s parallel fie system, Lustre, noted for its ability to scale without bottlenecks developing.

"This state-of-the-art facility will help us perform engineering and scientific modelling to a level of detail that would not be possible using physical experiments. The investment reflects Strathclyde's vision to be a leading international technological university," said Professor Jason Reese of the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The HPC would be set to work on problems relating to the simulation of fluids at nanoscale levels, predicting welding distortion and complex forms of aerodynamics, he said.

Supercomputers are no mere ego trip for the institutions that build them, although they are sometimes presented in a hugely competitive way. Access to such computing resources can now define a country’s knowledge output in science, engineering and technology as critically as physically-produced goods.

The world’s current supercomputer champion, the Cray supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is a calculating furnace capable of a claimed 1.759 Petaflops per second at peak, an order of magnitude greater than the EPPC in Edinburgh.