The role data centres play in pushing complex research forward

21 Jul 2023

Verne Global COO Mike Allen. Image: Verne Global.

Verne Global’s Mike Allen speaks about researchers’ growing need for data and how one centre in Iceland is being used to make a vast protein repository.

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Data centres have become a point of contention in recent years, combining various benefits for digital economies with a growing strain on energy grids.

The amount of energy these centres consume continues to rise, with 18pc of Ireland’s electricity used by data centres last year. There have been discussions around the need to regulate the amount of energy these centres consume, along with the need for greater transparency to make these centres more sustainable.

But despite these concerns, data centres present various benefits for our interconnected society, being able to securely store vast amounts of data in an easier, more accessible way.

One area that benefits from more data is research. Mike Allen, the COO of data centre provider Verne Global, said more complex research is “almost always reliant” on machine learning and AI to process vast amounts of data.

“This enables organisations to undertake larger and more ambitious research projects than ever before, while at the same time reduce development costs,” Allen said.

But training these AI systems requires vast amounts of data – such as what’s available in supercomputers. But while some options exist for researchers to access publicly-funded supercomputers, these options aren’t available to everyone.

“That means more and more institutions as well as commercial organisations are making use of supercomputers hosted in specialist data centres, which are optimised to support high density compute,” Allen said. “For many of these organisations, the data centre has become as important as the lab. These facilities are where major scientific breakthroughs often take place.”

Supporting Peptone research

One example that highlights the importance of data centres for research is Peptone. This biophysics company is building a repository of proteins to support the creation of protein-based drugs and vaccines. To build this repository, Peptone needed to store and analyse vast amounts of data.

The company moved its platform onto a Nvidia DGX A100 system in order to “accelerate and improve the accuracy of its research”, but Allen claims only a small number of data centres worldwide are capable of supporting this hardware.

“Verne Global’s Icelandic campus is one of those locations, and we are proud to now play a part in Peptone’s pioneering research,” Allen said.

Allen said this centre has a number of benefits, including being connected to Iceland’s stable energy grid, which enables Peptone to conduct research without a fear of power outages.

“As the country’s grid is the only grid in Europe that is powered by 100pc renewables, there is minimal impact on the environment,” Allen said. “This also means it is insulated from the energy price fluctuations seen elsewhere in Europe.

“In addition, the Verne Global campus has been specially designed to support high-intensity compute. With high-density cabinets, options for both air and liquid cooling, long-term and predictable power contracts, and specialist support, Verne Global provides an optimal environment for AI businesses like Peptone,” he added.

In terms of security, Allen said this data centre has more than eight ‘challenge’ points between the outside world and Peptone’s equipment, along with CCTV and round-the-clock “monitoring and physical patrols”.

“Peptone’s customers include big pharmaceutical companies, which are hugely reluctant to place their valuable, proprietary data in the cloud,” Allen said. “To comply with the very highest standards of security and privacy, Peptone chose to host its platform on dedicated hardware rather than the cloud.

“This means it knows exactly where all its data is and there is no chance of it having to share its infrastructure with others.”

Peptone CEO Dr Kamil Tamiola said Verne Global was the “ideal partner” for the company’s hybrid supercomputing cloud approach,  thanks to a combination of “its foundation in sustainability, global connectivity and reassuring ability to keep our world-leading practical research completely secure”.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic