High Performance Computing and the changing climate

Jack Bedell-Pearce, CEO and co-founder of 4D Data Centres, gives an insider's perspective on the role of HPC in combating the climate crisis.

If you’re involved in the world of High Performance Computing (HPC), you’ll know that governments and research groups are currently working to reach the next exciting milestone, incorporating exascale computing.

Using exascale will mean that systems are expected to be able to complete a quintillion calculations every second, which is a thousand times more than the first petascale computer. An exascale machine is likely to have similar processing power to the human brain, and will potentially be able to support advances in AI.

While a lot of HPC experts are striving for this next milestone, we must not forget how HPC has been instrumental in addressing some of the biggest issues in the world, many of which are now far beyond the reach of traditional computers.

As a Tier-3 data centre, we have seen first-hand what these powerful systems are capable of. From helping in the fight against climate change to assisting scientists in quickly diagnosing serious illnesses, we take a deeper look into how HPC’s capabilities are tackling some of the most important issues of our time and what could be coming to the fore as the technology continues to develop. 

Data and climate change

Climate change is now a huge part of our daily lives, with its effects and challenges becoming more prominent every day. Consequences are now more profound than just hot weather, with extreme conditions becoming common, which has led to countless deaths across the world.

With the weather notoriously difficult to forecast, improving the level of accuracy depends both on processing power and the volume of data available. A way of doing this is through the incorporation of machine learning (ML).

When partnered with HPC, ML allows scientists to look at climate data more flexibly, using figures from past events to more accurately predict what will happen in the future. This approach helps researchers to analyse the complexity of climate systems, and allows them to better understand how subtle interactions can influence weather.

ML models can also be helpful for multiple imputation, creating similar or synthetic data that will accelerate climate science research even further. When pieces of information are difficult or impossible to retrieve, ML can make predictions about items that are unknown and educate users on climate science and produce more accurate models.

In short, HPC will be a vital tool in enabling us to live with the changing climate in the years ahead, with much of this already underway.

Future-proofing systems 

HPC’s density of parts and power consumption requires specialist power and cooling infrastructure, which can make it difficult to plan for what is to come. So it’s essential to work with a data centre that can support you in years to come and is able to provide the infrastructure needed to expand in the future.

When choosing a data centre, even if they have the capacity to host your HPC system right now, it is important to make sure they have enough spare capacity so that you’ll be able to expand in the future. Without that assurance, your business growth could be stifled further down the line if a delay arises and prevents the growth of your high-performance computing system.

A HPC system is also significantly more complicated than traditional computing, so it’s essential that it is hosted in an ideal environment so it can run it at its maximum capacity and get the greatest return on investment.

And with the world looking to soon reap the benefits of exascale supercomputers, we must consider how this can be done in the most energy efficient and sustainable way as the UK works towards achieving net zero in the coming decades.

The growth of HPC

With the current acceleration in technology advancements, it’s predicted that exascale systems will become a reality in the next decade, with industries all over the world already racing to hit the milestone, something that is especially prevalent in the wake of COVID-19.

But while the future may be exciting, it’s also important to remember that HPC is already tackling critical global issues, and is excelling in coping with climate change, diagnosing diseases and sustainable energy consumption.

These applications represent exciting and progressive milestones for numerous sectors, and we are already seeing what could be possible in the future. With technology now much more advanced than it was even two years ago, the future for systems such as HPC is bright, exciting and sustainable.


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