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June 2020 newsletter – Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF)

Introducing Exascale Computing Algorithms and Infrastructures Benefiting UK Research (ExCALIBUR)

ExCALIBUR is a programme within the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) with total funding of £46m from October 2019 to March 2025. It is delivered in partnership between UKRI Research Councils (led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)) and the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Public Sector Research Establishments (PSRE) (led by the Met Office).

ExCALIBUR is delivering research and innovative algorithmic development to redesign the UK’s high priority simulation codes to fully harness the power of future supercomputers across scientific and engineering applications. (Such computers are referred to as Exascale since they are targeting delivering a billion floating point operations a second and a similar amount of data). It is committed to bringing together an unprecedented range of UK domain/subject-matter experts, mathematicians and computational scientists who will identify common issues and opportunities and focus their combined scientific expertise and resources to accelerate toward interdisciplinary solutions.

The programme objectives have been designed to specifically address the benefits sought:

Efficiency – The UK’s most important scientific simulation codes will be able to harness the power of the supercomputers of the mid-2020s resulting in an increase in scientific productivity for a given

  • Capability – Capitalising on this efficiency will enable the UK to continue to push the boundaries of science across a wide range of fields delivering transformational change in capability.
  • Expertise – A new, forward-facing, interdisciplinary approach to Research Software Engineer (RSE) career development will position the next generation of UK software engineers at the cutting-edge of scientific supercomputing.

Progress to date

The ExCALIBUR programme started delivery in October 2019. Weather and climate modelling along with fusion modelling had been identified in the original programme proposal as high priority use cases for the Met Office-led programme, and work is underway on these, with the UK Atomic Energy Agency (UKAEA) leading the work on fusion modelling. To develop the use cases for the EPSRC-led programme, community design and development working groups have been initiated. These will develop ideas around use cases with a selection to be taken forward in due course.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented some challenges which are currently being assessed along with the proposed mitigating actions. There are likely to be delays in some areas. One example will probably be in developing and initiating the cross-cutting themes since this will require a number of collaboration activities. Another example will be some of the defrayed activities where those are relying on recruitment. The Programme Board is also assessing opportunities to support the sector during these times and identifying lessons learnt. Despite the national lockdown, the majority of ExCALIBUR scientists are continuing to deliver scientific research while working remotely, exploiting virtual collaboration tools.  

Funding awards

EPSRC-led programme

The first phase of the ExCALIBUR high priority use cases has awarded ten successful design and development working groups from the initial UKRI call. These community Working Groups will bring together a wide range of domain experts, mathematicians, computational scientists, and Research Software Engineers (RSEs) to develop simulation codes for exascale computing that will have high impact and that can be applied by a wide range of users in strategically important areas of research.

Over the next 12 months the Working Groups will conduct a mixture of simulation code design and development, and community building activities that will engage relevant computational and user communities, addressing the ‘high priority use case’ theme within the ExCALIBUR programme. This is complementary to a parallel programme of activities led by the Met Office and the UK Atomic Energy Authority. An initial workshop engaging the different activities and scoping high priority use cases and cross cutting activities is set to run in July.

Details of these awards can be found on the EPSRC website.

Met Office-led programme

Externally-commissioned activities

Marine Systems (NEMO) Design

The ExCALIBUR Marine Systems (NEMO) design call has been awarded to a collaboration led by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and will run from June 2020 to March 2022.

This activity will be delivered by a team which brings together computational scientists and domain specialists from the STFC Hartree Centre, the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS staff from the Computational Modelling Services (CMS) team at the University of Reading).  The aim of this activity is to agree a strategy for applying the principle of a separation of concerns to the whole of NEMO and subsequently explore the potential to apply the approach to NEMO–like code bases.

Internally-commissioned activities

The Met Office is also leading a range of activities as follows:

  • Atmospheric model data layout and memory access design (October 2019-July 2021)
  • Atmospheric observation pre-processing and assimilation (October 2019-March 2021)
  • Marine Systems (WAVEWATCH III) design (April 2020-April 2022)
  • Verification system components design, integration and testing (April 2020-September 2023)
  • Design and implementation of new weather and climate diagnostic system (October 2019-March 2021)
  • Spatial decoupling of dynamics, physics and chemistry (April 2020-September 2022)

Steering Committee

The ExCALIBUR Steering Committee has been formed and includes members of the science community with a high level of expertise across various disciplines. The first meetings were held in May via Zoom to help define the role of the group and seek their advice on the Programme’s Science Plans. They also discussed stakeholder engagement, Research Software Engineers and the key issues in Exascale computing. A list of the members of the committee is available on the Met Office website.