UEA offers up computing resources to global search for coronavirus therapies

Published by  News Archive

On 7th Apr 2020

computing numbers and graphs on blue

UEA is donating four of its graphics processing units (GPUs), servers which contain high powered graphics cards, to the Folding@home (FAH) project.

FAH is a project created by Stanford University in California in October 2000, which uses idle computer power to help simulate how proteins fold in the human body. The outputs from these simulations are then used to assist researchers in the bid to find cures for diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s and influenza.

The insights from these vast simulations of protein dynamics can then help foster a better understanding of how virus proteins function which can create new opportunities for developing medicines and therapeutics, with research laboratories based as far and wide as Virginia, Stockholm and Hong Kong supporting the project.

Following the outbreak of COVID-19, FAH put out a fresh call for individuals and businesses with large computational power to join their network in the attempt to find potential remedies for the virus.

GPUs were originally used for gaming, before the performance benefits were adopted in high end computing. They are currently predominantly utilised by UEA’s School of Computing Science for research in areas such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans.

Additional GPU servers have recently been installed at UEA and as these are not currently being used to full capacity, it is this extra resource that has been offered up.

Each of UEA’s GPUs cost around £8,000, with the servers continuing to be based at UEA campus and beginning the ‘folding’ jobs around 30 times faster than a regular computer system would manage. These results then automatically start reporting back to FAH with their findings.

UEA is one of 400,000 new donors who responded to pledged resource within the last two weeks and the project is now working with around 470 petaflops of data, more than the world’s top seven supercomputers combined.

The project has ranked its 2.5 million donors, scoring them in terms of ‘Work Units’, which measures how much data is analysed and sent over to the project to be processed. UEA has currently completed 505 Work Units, ranking them among the top 70,000 contributors and putting them within the top 3% of the global table.

Fiona Lettice, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, said: “We’ve invested a lot of resource and effort locally into assisting in the battle against coronavirus in any way we can and it’s great that we’ve found a way that we at UEA can extend our reach and offer our support globally too.

“The coronavirus pandemic is having an effect on just about everyone on the planet, so even a small breakthrough with this project could have a huge impact and it is great to be a part of that.”

Iain Reeman, UEA ICT Systems Director, said: “Compared to some of the organisations who are contributing their computing capacity to this project, our systems are fairly modest, so it’s heartening to discover that we are in the top echelon of all contributors across the world and we hope that it will go some way to making a difference.”

You can find out more about UEA's computer science research on UEA's website the FAH project on the Folding@home website.

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