How a £2m supercomputer is enabling University of Hull to support global COVID-19 research

A multi-million-pound high-performance computer owned by the University of Hull is playing a crucial role in global COVID-19 research.

Known as Viper, the computer became the fastest machine of any northern university when it arrived in Hull back in 2016.

Four years on, Viper is now helping researchers around the world better understand and tackle the spread of COVID-19.

Viper is able to download and process bitesize chunks of huge computer simulations, and the final results can then be accessed by researchers across the planet.

The simulations would ordinarily be far too large for a normal PC to be able to download.

Chris Collins, Research Systems Manager at the University of Hull, said: “It has been humbling to see how the University has responded to the challenges posed by COVID-19.

“From a team producing face shields for the NHS and healthcare organisations, to helping re-train former NHS staff, the University is doing everything it can in this difficult time.


Using spare capacity on Viper – which is constantly supporting other research projects within the University – is us doing our little bit to help tackle COVID-19.

Chris Collins

Research Systems Manager

The University’s High-Performance Computing team have partnered up with industry specialist OCF to support global research into COVID-19.

The University forms part of the Folding@home initiative, a project developed by Stanford University in California which focusses on disease research.

The project brings together personal computers, as well as those donated by larger companies and institutions from across the world and enables them to join together to run huge simulations.

The results help scientists better understand biology and provide new opportunities for developing treatments of viruses such as COVID-19.

"Breaking up and distributing large tasks across personal computers is not a new concept, with projects using this approach since the 1990s,” Mr Collins said.

"Supercomputers like Viper are normally used to tackle the grand challenges of science and engineering on their own rather than as part of a distributed projects like this, however COVID-19 has really brought computers like Viper to the forefront of the Folding@home project.

“Everyone just wants to find something which will help prevent the virus from spreading."

“We cannot be on the frontline like NHS staff are, but this is something we can do to help.”

The HPC team are working hard to dedicate any resources not currently being used for University research to the project.

Viper provides researchers with the opportunity to significantly enhance the impact and quality of research at the University.

If you would like more information about the project, please visit the COVID-19 page on the Folding@home website.

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