I propose to take Questions Nos. 106 to 108, inclusive, together.
High Performance Computing (HPC) services include the provision and support of high-end compute resources, data analytics, education and training services to industry and higher education institutions. Globally, supercomputers are playing an ever increasing and critically important role in a wide range of computationally intensive tasks in various fields of relevance to cloud technologies, big data, climate research, weather forecasting, oil and gas exploration amongst others.
Since 2005 the main, though not exclusive, HPC provision in Ireland has been through the Irish Centre for High End Computing (ICHEC) which is hosted by NUI Galway. Other universities, such as Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and NUI Maynooth also possess HPC expertise and facilities. Since its establishment in 2005 ICHEC has primarily received funding supports from Science Foundation Ireland and the Higher Education Authority.
During 2012 a small steering group comprising senior officials from the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) was established to assess a number of issues regarding Ireland’s future HPC service provision needs and structure.
As part of this group’s work and following a tendering process in spring 2012, a report was commissioned from MacDougall Consulting, UK to examine a number of relevant issues regarding HPC services and demand in Ireland. The consultant undertook a series of meetings with a range of stakeholders, including higher education institutions, relevant Government Departments and Agencies, and key industry personnel and presented a report to the Steering Group in October, 2012. The consultant’s report was prepared to assist the Steering Group in its internal deliberations rather than publication per se.
Following consideration of the report, the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation accepted the strong recommendations that continuation of HPC services in Ireland was a strategic priority; that a centralised model of high-performance computing provision was needed in Ireland; that there was an increasing demand for HPC services by industry; and that ICHEC was the preferred centralised option at this time. In light of the consultant’s recommendations, the Departments jointly agreed to the continuation of core funding support to ICHEC which previously had been provided through SFI and the Higher Education Authority. The funding will amount to €1.4m annually over the period 2013 to 2015, with €0.7m coming from each Department. The Departments also accepted the recommendation that ICHEC should, on balance, continue to be hosted by NUI Galway in the medium term.
The annual funding provision to ICHEC is subject to a range of conditions and targets involving the provision of a detailed annual business plan; ensuring best practice corporate governance arrangements; demonstrable alignment with national strategies and actions such as the Action Plan for Jobs and a national e-Infrastructure policy. ICHEC will also be subject to independent review over the period to 2015 and will be expected to leverage additional funding from industry, the EU or through national competitive research funding calls.
Recently ICHEC was successful with a bid for supercomputing equipment in the 2012 SFI Infrastructure Call. ICHEC currently has a tender out for this supercomputing equipment. This will enable ICHEC to provide leading edge computing power to a range of industry players and our higher education sector which in turn will further enhance Ireland’s HPC capacity internationally. It will also assist Ireland’s “Big Data” ambitions and the Government’s “Disruptive Reform” agenda where we seek to be a world-leading location for big data and data analytics.