SURF and Nikhef offer experimental graphical computing to Dutch scientists

15 October 2020

Starting this month the SURF Open Innovation Lab (SOIL) has introduced a new experimental graphical computing cluster that is accessible to all Dutch scientists. The cluster is unique in the Netherlands and is located at Nikhef in Amsterdam.

Graphic processors were originally developed for the gaming industry, where fast image processing is essential. In addition, GPUs are increasingly used for scientific calculations, including astronomy, particle physics and other demanding research projects.

Since 2018, SURF has had a long-term relationship with AMD to experiment with the company’s most advanced technologies. The current project is also being carried out in collaboration with the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics (Nikhef). The system is hosted at Nikhef and forms the heart of this new arithmetic collaboration of experimental research.

A key objective of SURF is to evaluate new ICT concepts and technologies in order to determine their usability and applicability for researchers,” says SURF’s IT consultant Sagar Dolas. ‘By experimenting with innovative technologies, we are discovering new opportunities to speed up research in the Netherlands’.

We see this as a win-win situation for all parties involved,” says Nikhef’s IT architect Tristan Suerink. AMD will receive valuable feedback from real-world research projects in the scientific world and at the same time discover the critical requirements of researchers. From our perspective, we benefit from the added value of using innovative accelerator-based technologies on our workload, allowing our scientists to advance their calculations thanks to the performance of AMD’s GPUs’.

Designed to deliver high levels of performance, we are pleased that AMD Accelerators enable SURF and the Nikhef Data Center to support ongoing scientific research within an open, flexible ecosystem,” said Brad Mccredie, Corporate Vice President, Data Center GPU and Accelerated Processing, AMD. AMD Radeon Instinct, supported by AMD’s open ecosystem software, provides excellent scientific workload performance with a very parallel computing architecture.

SURF provides access to the national computer facilities for research and education in the Netherlands. We are curious to see how Dutch research can benefit from AMD’s latest GPUs. The project, which has been in preparation for a year now, is a great opportunity for SURF to gain more experience with different computer methods,’ says Sagar Dolas.

Whether it concerns artificial intelligence or experimental research, we understand that there is a critical need to process more data. We want to do this in an effective and sustainable way and expect that graphic processors will play an important role in the future’.

In the first weeks of the project, Nikhef researchers have already become acquainted with the new cluster. They are involved in CERN’s LHCb particle experiment, which last month decided to start with graphical calculations, testing AMD’s technology right outside the gate.

It is expected that the use of graphical calculations will continue to evolve on a large scale in scientific research in the coming years. Although more tests are needed, we hope to make a leap forward by offering this experimental cluster and its support, including training and workshops,” continues Sagar Dolas.

The departments of astronomy, chemistry and biology are seeing a rapid increase in interest in this innovative approach as an informatics tool. For example, these graphical charts are being used to develop methods for finding new COVID-19 drugs more quickly’.

The new GPU cluster is now open to all Dutch researchers. Access can be requested via