A high performance server cluster is enabling researchers at Durham University to better understand the universe, by allowing them to model phenomena ranging from solar flares to the formation of galaxies.

The cluster is known as The Cosmology Machine (COSMA) and is a combination of COSMA5, a new IBM and DDN technology infrastructure integrated with Durham University’s existing cluster, COSMA4 (originally installed in January 2011).

Boosted by the new infrastructure, COSMA now has 9856 CPU cores and 4096 GPU cores. It includes 71,000GB of RAM and the peak performance of the system is 182T/Flops. COSMA has 3.5PB of storage for the data produced by cosmology applications.

“We can use telescopes to 'watch' how galaxies are formed but it takes millions of lifetimes,” said Adrian Jenkins, COSMA project scientist at Durham University.

“The server cluster is helping us work on this problem much more quickly. We can model a single galaxy in a computer right through its formation process in a few days.”

The server cluster and storage has been designed, built, installed and will be supported by Durham University’s data processing, data management and storage partner, OCF.

It will become part of the Science & Technology Facilities Council's DiRAC project, used by researchers at universities including Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, St Andrews, Sussex and Warwick, and from abroad by people in Australia, China, Germany and the Netherlands.

“With the new cluster we can start to simulate large populations of galaxies and for the first time in the world model thousands of galaxies in a single region of the universe all at the same time and with high numerical resolution,” said Jenkins.

“A simulation like this will still take months to run, but with our previous cluster we simply didn’t have the computing power or the memory to run the model at all.”

Durham is one of four sites selected to host national high performance computing (HPC) facilities for theoretical astrophysics and particle physics research, as part of DiRAC project. Other supercomputers are hosted in Cambridge, Leicester and Edinburgh.

Last year the University of Leicester was awarded £2 million in government funding to build a supercomputer capable of researching space in unprecedented detail and providing new insights into the history of the universe.

In total, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' (BIS) is investing £15 million in DiRAC. The funding will come out of the government's £158 million e-infrastructure budget, which is intended to drive growth and innovation across a range of sectors.