The early days
In the 1980s an interest in parallel computing developed at The University of Edinburgh in the Departments of Physics and Computer Science. EPCC grew from this work and was created in 1990 as a centre of excellence in parallel computing.
We have always had the same mission statement – ‘To accelerate the effective exploitation of parallel and novel computing by industry, academia and commerce’. The ordering of these constituencies is important. EPCC was initially led by Prof Sir David Wallace who convinced the UK Government to invest in parallel computing. The Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) established the Parallel Applications Programme which led to the creation of five similar organisations around the UK, designed to work with industry and commerce to accelerate their adoption of this technology. It was understood that the centres ploughed the money back into their research and academic programmes. Prime Minister Thatcher saw this as an example of the self-funding of University research institutes. Of the five centres that were funded between 1990–1994, three no longer exist and only EPCC continues to be involved in parallel and high performance computing.
EPCC grew quickly from a handful of staff to a team of 65 people. As the DTI funding ran out we went through our first major convulsion, spinning out two companies – Quadstone Ltd and Paramics Ltd – and slimming down to 45 staff very rapidly. The EPCC management team left with these companies and Prof. Richard Kenway and Prof. Arthur Trew took over the running of the Centre. Two successes saved EPCC at this point: we won our first National HPC Service provision contract for the Cray T3D service, and our first large European Commission (EC) project – the HPCN-TTN project.
We continued to work with industry and academia but, without the DTI co-funding, found we had to work very hard to attract industry funding. We also had to learn how to deliver well-run projects – whether for academia or industry – during this period. In many ways the EPCC of today was born at this time.
1994–2000: a period of consolidation
From 1994 to 2000 EPCC had around 45 staff. It was during this period that we learned how to deliver projects professionally – to budget and time. We failed to win the next National HPC service contract (HPC 97 – a long story) but were highly successful at securing e-Science funding that the UK Government made available from 2000 onwards. EPCC grew to around 65 staff and remained this size through much of the 2000s. We won the next National HPC service contract, HPCx, and cemented our position with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as a safe pair of hands. The HECToR and ARCHER services followed.
2004: The Advanced Computing Facility is born
In 2004 we refitted a University building to create our Advanced Computing Facility. We have subsequently extended the Facility – most notably in 2013 when we added a huge building (550m2 machine room and 850m2 plant room) for the current ARCHER service at a cost of £12m.
2016–2018: EPCC becomes a Centre – and moves home
In 2015 an International Review recommended that EPCC become a Centre in its own right within the College of Science and Engineering. In August 2016 this new organisational structure was implemented within the College. In 2018 we moved into The Bayes Centre, a hub designed to foster data-driven innovation within and beyond the University of Edinburgh.
National Services at EPCC
We currently run four National Services: ARCHER, the UK’s primary academic research supercomputer; the DiRAC Extreme Scaling service; Cirrus, an EPSRC a Tier-2 HPC service; and the UK Research Data Facility. These systems put us at a world-class level, and we are seen as a major HPC player worldwide.
Data-Driven Innovation programme
EPCC is responsible for developing and hosting the World-Class Data Infrastructure (WCDI), which will underpin the Data-Driven Innovation programme of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. WCDI offers a secure data and compute infrastructure in which industry and academia will work together on social and commercial challenges.
EPCC has never received significant University funding. Our income derives from public funding (UK research grants, Government service contracts, and European Commission research contracts), which doesn’t make a profit, and industrial and commercial cash projects, which make a profit and cover the shortfall, particularly the support staff we need to run the Centre.
The Centre has never made a loss in all its years of operation. Today it is led by its Director Professor Mark Parsons, employs over 100 staff and is a highly successful organisation.