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High Performance Computing

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Introduction and brief history

The current Darwin is retiring in April 2018 and is accepting no new users. Please visit the site of the replacement CSD3 facility which is available for use now. 


The Cambridge High Performance Computing Cluster Darwin was the largest academic supercomputer in the UK at installation in November 2006, providing 50% more performance than any other academic machine in the UK. Darwin was ranked the 20th fastest machine in the world in the November 2006 top500 list. This system originally had 2340 3.0 GHz Intel Woodcrest cores and 4.6 TB of total memory, with a peak Linpack Performance of 28.08 Tflop/s and a sustained value of 18.27 Tflop/s. The SDR Infiniband interconnect provided 900 MB/s bandwidth with a 1.9 microsecond latency. This first Darwin system entered production service in February 2007.

In October 2010 the system was upgraded by replacing 256 Woodcrest cores and 512 GB of memory with 1536 Westmere cores and 4608 GB of memory, connected via QDR Infiniband (3200 MB/s bandwidth and less than one microsecond latency). A 256 Nehalem core, 128 NVIDIA Tesla GPU cluster was also introduced. The second Darwin system provided an equivalent overall sustained performance of around 30 TFlop/s.

Over the period of March-June 2012, a major upgrade was undertaken in which the old Woodcrest nodes were decommissioned and replaced by 9600 2.60GHz Intel Sandy Bridge cores (600 nodes, 64GB of RAM per node, connected by Mellanox FDR Infiniband). This new system achieved a sustained Linpack performance of 183.379 TFlops (90.6% of peak), earning position 93 on the June 2012 Top500 list. By itself this was at this time the fastest (publicly disclosed) x86_64 cluster in the UK. Combined with the legacy 15 TFlop/s Westmere QDR system produced a third generation Darwin cluster with an overall processing power of just under 200 TFlop/s. This system entered full production in June 2012 and currently provides high performance computing both internally for the University of Cambridge and externally as part of the STFC DiRAC facility.