Supercomputing for environmental consultancy

Knowtra, a small environmental-science consultancy firm established in 2007, is using access to HPC Wales to help expand and improve its business. Its founder, Dr Steve Spall, explains:
“The availability of high performance computing through HPC Wales means that I can take on a wider range of projects – including projects where previously I was limited by the computer resources that I had. Because I have more computing power to apply to problems, I can deliver more accurate and reliable solutions to my clients.
“I hope that I can grow the company by taking on more of the type of work that I already do and also by getting into other innovative areas. HPC Wales has already helped me in that I’ve been able to test out promising new ideas for the future.”
Ocean, weather and climate science lie at the core of Knowtra’s expertise. Simulation studies are vital in these areas, as it is impossible to carry out experiments on the very large scales needed to understand the physical processes that govern an ocean or the atmosphere. HPC Wales has allowed Knowtra to access much larger compute resources than were previously available to them. Dr Spall says that the business is already seeing benefits from this:
“In many of my projects I run computer simulations of the ocean and, in general, these get better the more computer power you have. So, having access to good computing power means I can do more and better simulations in order to obtain more realistic results.
“One area where HPC Wales has helped me to achieve more has been in carrying out simulations of ports within West Africa. I work closely with an engineering company who does a lot of work there and I am now able to do better quality simulations of the ports in the area. That has meant that we’ve got better information on how port developments might impact on the currents in the surrounding ocean.
“By helping planners to obtain the best information that they can have about the impact of a project, my work can improve people’s lives. For example, changes in the currents around a port can have a long-term impact on the community that lives around that port. So making the right decisions during the development planning process is important. The simulations that I carry out on HPC Wales’ systems help to inform that process.”
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) like Knowtra are a vital part of the Welsh economy, accounting for over half of total employment in the country. An important part of HPC Wales’ mission is to engage with these SMEs and enable them to access high performance computing to grow and provide further employment opportunities within Wales.
While they may benefit from access to more computer power, most SMEs are unable to employ a dedicated high performance computing expert or acquire their own large computer systems. So, their key requirements from HPC Wales are ease-of-use and ease-of-access. To meet business needs, systems need to be available at short notice, with the necessary software pre-installed and ready to use. According to Dr Spall, HPC Wales provides an excellent service in this regard:
“The support I’ve received from HPC Wales has been very good. When I’ve had technical questions they’ve been answered; when I’ve required new software to be available on the system that’s been done quickly. So it’s definitely helped. With a business, you often have short deadlines and you need to be turning things around quickly.
“There are businesses out there that will certainly benefit from high performance computing. I think HPC Wales helps businesses to be more competitive. It certainly helps the competitiveness of my business.”
Access to HPC Wales, and support in achieving maximum benefit from its technology, is providing SMEs like Knowtra with new opportunities and enabling them to deliver an improved service to their customers. As these businesses thrive, so too will the workforce and economy in Wales.