The word "supercomputers" always fills me with a bit of awe - having visited the CERN labs in Geneva in the late 80's, my mind goes back to big black towers, full of flashing lights, and with a bizarre sofa arrangement around the box. And all of this sitting in a massive hanger-like building, with more aircon units than I'd probably seen in the rest of my life (this was the 80's after all!). And there really were men in whitecoats surrounding them.
Well, although my memory hasn't moved on, the world has. We've now got computer clusters, arrays of 64-bit processor driven PCs, doing massive computational tasks. My colleagues who work in this area have just published an interesting case study on the Northwest Institute for BioHealth Informatics at the University of Manchester, where they have implemented a new high-performance computing system to help their study into the effects of molecular, personal and community factors on common diseases. The case study looks at their IT system, and they describe the benefits it gives them:
- Allowing scientists to concentrate on science
- Requires fewer specialist skills for operation
- An integrated environment to help collaboration
- Accelerated future research