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 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. Many of EPCC’s senior staff have worked for EPCC since this time. 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 management team left with these companies and Prof Richard Kenway and Prof Arthur Trew took over the management 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 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 – be they for academia or industry – during this period. In many ways the EPCC of today was born at this time. EPCC has never received significant University funding and we have always funded ourselves through public funding such as research grant and service contracts, which don’t make a profit, and commercially funded projects which make a profit and fund the shortfall, particularly the support staff, we need to run the Centre. EPCC has never made a loss in all its years of operation.
From 1994 to 2000 EPCC had around 45 staff. It was during this period that we learnt 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 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 EPSRC as a safe pair of hands. The HECToR and ARCHER services followed.
In 2004 we decided to refit a University building which had been let commercially for several years and created our Advanced Computing Facility. We have subsequently extended this building – 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. We currently run three national services – the main ARCHER National HPC service, the DiRAC Bluegene/Q service and the Research Data Facility. These three systems put us at a world-class level – and we are seen as a major HPC player worldwide. In 2016 we bid for capital from EPSRC to operate a Tier 2 HPC service which we won and forms a key part of our strategy over the next 3 years.
Throughout the past 27 years we have funded ourselves using a multi-funding approach of money from UK research grants, Government service contracts, EC research funding, and industrial and commercial cash projects. Today EPCC is led by its Director Professor Mark Parsons, employs 100 staff and is a highly successful organisation.
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 EPCC will move into The Bayes Centre, a hub designed to foster data-driven innovation within and beyond the University of Edinburgh.