Irish high-end computing centre ICHEC gets €8m funding boost

4 Jul 2013

Prof JC Desplat, director of ICHEC, pictured at the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) in Dublin City today. Credit: Jason Clarke Photography

The Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) is to glean €8m in funding to support 25 computational scientist positions over the next three years. Ireland’s Research and Innovation Minister, Seán Sherlock, TD, has just announced the funding for ICHEC, which will go towards research areas such as big data.

The Irish Government is providing the funding to allow ICHEC to continue to maintain its leading-edge high-performance computing equipment and to sustain its 25 researchers, who are split between the cities of Galway and Dublin. ICHEC is headquartered at NUI Galway.

The Government announced the funding news at the Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street, Dublin 2, today.

The ultimate aim of the €8m, the Government said, is to complement Ireland’s ambitions to be a global leader in big data/data analytics and high-performance computing.

ICHEC was established in 2004/05 through SFI.

Working with industry to analyse ‘big’ data

At the minute, ICHEC provides computational and data analytical support for a range of research activities and services across Ireland’s higher education and industry sectors.

The centre, for instance, works with partners such as Met Éireann, Tullow Oil and Paddy Power in areas that require computational staff with the expertise to resolve complex business issues.

ICHEC is also directly involved in European high-performance computing activity through the EU-supported PRACE programme.

Ireland and big data

Sherlock said that as part of the measures contained in the Government’s jobs action plan, the Government has committed to making Ireland a leading country in Europe for big data.

He said that with the sector growing at 40pc per annum worldwide, Ireland already has significant competitive advantages.

“We are all aware of the massive volume of data being created through the explosion of social media, increased usage of mobile devices and scientific advances in recent years,” said Sherlock.

“It seems that 90pc of data that now exists has been created in just the last two years or so. This is phenomenal.”

While governments and industry around the globe are now presented with challenges in how to sift through and manage the usefulness of this data, this also presents commercial opportunities.

“We believe that Ireland is in a prime position to lead in the area of big data/data analytics and high-performance computing with many large multinationals already located here, including Intel, Accenture, Google, Facebook, EMC and Data Direct Networks,” said Sherlock.

‘Computational horsepower’ – Sherlock

Big data also needs the “computational horsepower”, Sherlock said, such as talented researchers who are able to store, analyse and interpret the global data explosion.

“The ICHEC team of computational scientists and technologists, which is hosted by NUI Galway, goes some significant way to providing Ireland with this much-needed computational horsepower,” said Sherlock.

The €8m funding for ICHEC is being provided by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Education and Skills through the Higher Education Authority. It includes an investment of €3.7m that was awarded through Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Infrastructure Programme call in 2012.  

Sherlock believes that ICHEC should be able to help with the leveraging of new investments and the creation of Irish jobs down the line.

Sharing expertise with academia, public sector and industry

Speaking following today’s announcement, Prof JC Desplat, director of ICHEC, added that the ability to harness novel technologies such as big data, data analytics and high-performance computing will have a dramatic effect on Ireland’s competitiveness.

“ICHEC is committed to making the high-end expertise of its domain experts available to industry, the public sector and academia,” he said.

“We anticipate that these partnerships will develop in areas as diverse as biomedical research, materials science, weather forecasting and geophysics.”

‘To outcompute is to outcompete’ – Martin Curley, Intel

There was a significant industry presence at today’s funding announcement. Martin Curley, director of Intel Labs Europe and vice-president of Intel Corp, was one such being in attendance at the RIA.

“To outcompute is to outcompete,” he said. “Ireland cannot be the world leader in the high performance in computing but Ireland can be a leader in the application of high-performance computing.”

Curley pointed to how such computing could help Ireland optimise its use of wind energy. This would involve accurately predicting where and when the wind will blow so Ireland can optimally use the availability of renewable energy, he said.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic