Kings College London has joined forced with educational network provider Jisc and other universities to open a collaborative computational research data centre in Slough.

As with many universities across the UK, said Kings, its data centre facilities were “inefficient”, with outdated infrastructure and an unsuitable environment for future technology development. The result was an ad-hoc evolution of technology and infrastructure, which was not conducive to the research aspirations of the college, it said.

The education research data centre is based in Slough. Image credit: Infinity
The education research data centre is based in Slough. Image credit: Infinity

This was compounded by the increased need for computational solutions to undertake larger medical research programmes using high performance computing (HPC) clusters which handle and analyse large amounts of data at high speed. Tasks that can take months using normal computers can be done in days or even minutes with a HPC platform, making these systems essential for successful research applications.

Nick Leake, CIO at King’s College London, said HPC is “fundamentally important for biomedical and mathematical research”. To overcome the challenges, Kings developed various relationships with other research-intensive universities as well as Jisc, the provider of the Janet network that serves 18 million users.

A partnership was then formed between Jisc, King’s College London and five other institutions, including University College London, The Sanger Institute, The Francis Crick Institute, The London School of Economics & Political Science and Queen Mary University of London.

The partners wanted to create shared facilities in which researchers could collaborate. They also wanted to increase energy efficiency and reduce cost. To meet all of these requirements, Jisc and its institutional partners chose to set up a shared data centre to provide a platform for greater collaboration between universities and other research institutions.

Following a procurement process, Infinity’s Slough data centre was selected to provide the facilities for the partners to establish the shared facility for education and research. Ben Goodyear, consultant at King’s College London, said: “The shared data centre meets our needs for both enterprise and research computing. The combination of the space at Infinity, with its highly-efficient power and cooling infrastructure, and the ability to co-locate research data, created a compelling business case for change.”

A prerequisite of the procurement was that any UK university, NHS academic science centre or research institution could also take advantage of the facility if they wished to. Infinity was chosen for its commercial flexibility, along with its agile, resilient and efficient data centre platform, whilst also enabling institutions to fully manage the connectivity of their services.

Jeremy Sharp, director of strategic technologies at Jisc, said: “For the majority of our founder partners, power flexibility was very important as most work on biomedical and mathematical research, which takes a lot of processing power. We needed a data centre to provide a range of power densities per rack, as well as the flexibility to change the power allocation within the data hall when needed.”

Infinity is able to handle the provision of a range of power densities from 4kW to 30kW per rack. Sharp said: “Power provision used to be a major concern for us as HPC is integral to our research and requires racks that can handle peaks of up to 30kW of power to meet the demands of running large research projects.’’

King’s College London is the first university to relocate its facilities to the new Slough centre. As founder users migrate to Infinity’s facilities they are able to combine their resources, enter tenders for larger projects together and improve the results.

With King’s infrastructure now hosted in the Slough data centre collaboration is easier. Previously, any teamwork or partnership would have been difficult as collaboration would have required hosting the technology at different university facilities. Now, all they have to do is simply connect their technology across the data centre and work together.

Sharp said: “This is the first step to increasing collaboration between more universities and colleges. Smaller universities and colleges find it difficult to afford their own data centre facilities. Slough will provide access to the same level of technology as the larger universities, without the large overheads that go with it.”