University of Birmingham – Learn how they drive innovative research forward by taking control of data.

University of Birmingham – Learn how they drive innovative research forward by taking control of data.
Challenge

To maintain its reputation as a premier research institution, the University of Birmingham must ensure data is always available to a growing number of users running increasingly complex simulations.

Solution

The university deployed IBM® Spectrum Scale™ and IBM Spectrum Protect™, increasing transparency around data’s location and who accesses it, and increasing its mobility within a diverse IT environment.

Result

Supports Compliance with data protection regulations at low cost and without disruption. Up to 2 FTEs estimated saving due to enhanced operational efficiency. 5000 researchers supported by infrastructure that helps them find solutions to key issues faster.

Today’s research simulations are generating more data than ever before, a trend that shows no signs of slowing. With the help of OCF and IBM Spectrum Storage solutions, the University of Birmingham seized control of storage resources to meet rising demand for its research facilities, helping to reduce risk of data loss, simplify compliance with data protection rules and foster ground-breaking research.

In this case study, you’ll learn how the solution is helping the University of Birmingham to maintain its reputation as a premier research institution, by ensuring data is always available to a growing number of users running increasingly complex simulations.

Challenge

Research tackles the big questions, delving into uncharted territory in pursuit of knowledge that could change the world. To do their work effectively, many researchers run highly complex computing simulations, which produce or use vast amounts of data. This data must be stored where it can be accessed readily, both by users working on the project and people looking to verify and build on results in the future.

The University of Birmingham, a major research destination in the UK, is very familiar with these challenges. The organization provides Birmingham Environment for Academic Research (BEAR), a collection of IT resources available at no cost to its community and qualified external researchers.

Simon Thompson, Research Computing Infrastructure Architect at the University of Birmingham, explains: “Our engagement team is continually attracting new users to our facilities, which is great for the university, but means that my team needs to make the right infrastructure decisions to ensure that we can meet demand.”

The Research Computing team realized that it lacked a central provision for data, preventing the university from harnessing it to its full potential and introducing risks around compliance.

“Before, it was common for people to store data on their personal hard drives or USB sticks,” recalls Thompson. “As their and our intellectual property, we wanted to make sure that data was available to other users in a way that aligned with data protection guidelines. We began looking for a new approach to data storage that would enable us to address these challenges and act on emerging opportunities.”

Solution

The University of Birmingham’s investments in research infrastructure are paying off: its facilities play host to a range of exciting research projects. By supporting research teams with the cutting-edge infrastructure that they need to excel, the university helps them achieve results faster, while enhancing its standing as a destination for the world’s brightest minds.

“We support research in a wide range of areas including applying and developing techniques to use AI and deep learning,” explains Thompson. “For example, we’re collaborating with the University of Nottingham on the Centre of Membrane Proteins and Receptors [COMPARE] project. By analyzing the super high-resolution images produced by the latest generations of microscopes, the project will shed light on how cardiovascular disease, respiratory disorders and cancer can be better prevented and treated. We’ve also joined Health Data Research UK, which focuses on developing and applying cutting-edge data science approaches to enable more efficient and accurate diagnostics.

“A research team is using our facilities to tackle an area where HPC [high-performance computing] hasn’t typically been applied: linguistics. They’re using textual analysis to understand how the most translated text of all time – the Bible – has changed over the centuries, and what this can teach us about language and culture. The university recently became part of The Alan Turing Institute, which is the UK institute for data science and AI, which aims to bring together researchers with different skill sets. Underpinning all of this pioneering innovation, IBM Spectrum Storage solutions make sure that the data is there, whenever Birmingham’s researchers need it.”

 

Benefits

The University of Birmingham now has greater control over data than ever before, enabling it to make the most of this invaluable resource while complying with emerging regulations easily and cost-effectively.

“Through audit logging, Spectrum Scale gives us unprecedented insight into who is using data and how, which we can use to meet reporting requirements and ensure correct processes are followed,” says Thompson. “Best of all, this can happen with minimal disruption to our users and without impacting our budget too much. We estimate that simplified operations enabled by IBM Spectrum solutions have allowed us to extend our HPC environment without adding to our management team, saving as much as two FTEs [full-time employees].”

Equipped with IBM Spectrum Storage™ solutions, the University of Birmingham has multiple layers of protection against data loss, ensuring that researchers can always access the information they require. As the university continues to push the limits of HPC capabilities, the technology helps the Research Computing team use resources to their full potential.

Thompson concludes: “We are about to implement new IBM POWER9 processor-based servers to support AI projects, this will be the largest PowerAI deployment in the UK and is part of a collaboration with IBM to help skill our researchers to use the systems. To get the most out of them, we are planning to purchase extremely high-performance storage systems. The ability to add new resources seamlessly and serve them to our users transparently with help from Spectrum Scale is crucial.”

University of Birmingham

Established by Queen Victoria in 1900, the University of Birmingham is one of the largest universities in the UK, serving approximately 34,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university’s Computer Centre is the centerpiece of the Birmingham Environment for Academic Research (BEAR), a collection of IT resources available without cost to the University of Birmingham community and qualified external researchers.


“Spectrum Scale gives us unprecedented insight into who is using data and how, which we can use to meet reporting requirements and ensure correct processes are followed.”

Simon Thompson, Research Computing Infrastructure Architect, University of Birmingham