IBM Powers UK Big Data Research

IBM partners with the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to advance big data and cognitive computing research.

IBM big data

The UK’s Minister for Universities and Science recently announced a partnership with IBM valued at 313 million British pounds – or about $479 million -- to boost big data and cognitive computing research in the UK.

Jo Johnson, Universities and Science Minister, said IBM’s partnership with the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) will result in technology transfer of advanced computing and big data analytics in new and improved products, services and manufacturing processes. Researchers, doctors, engineers, economists and retailers will be able to use big data to make quicker and cheaper discoveries, as well as better decisions.

As part of a five- year investment, STFC will tap into IBM innovations, including Watson and Power Systems, in addition to technologies from the OpenPOWER Foundation. More than two dozen IBM researchers will be based at STFC’s Hartree Centre at Sci-Tech Daresbury and work alongside STFC researchers on the development of new tools, algorithms and approaches to big data.

Following on the UK government’s commitment of 113 million pounds ($173 million) to expand the Hartree Centre over the next five years, IBM will further support the project with a package of technology and onsite expertise worth up to 200 million pounds ($306 million).

“We live in an information economy – from the smart devices we use every day to the supercomputers that helped find the Higgs Boson, the power of advanced computing means we now have access to vast amounts of data,” Johnson said in a statement. “This partnership with IBM, which builds on our £113 million investment to expand the Hartree Centre, will help businesses make the best use of big data to develop better products and services that will boost productivity, drive growth and create jobs.”

IBM officials said big data and cognitive computing technologies such as Watson enable non-computer specialists to gain insight from the vast amounts of data being generated today, and do so in a more natural, human-friendly way. Delivered through the cloud, IBM’s Watson analyzes high volumes of data, understands complex questions posed in natural language, and provides evidence-based answers. Moreover, the system continuously learns, gaining in value and knowledge over time, from previous interactions.

“We’re at the dawn of a new era of cognitive computing, during which advanced data-centric computing models and open innovation approaches will allow technology to greatly augment decision-making capabilities for business and government,” David Stokes, chief executive for IBM in the UK and Ireland, said in a statement. “The expansion of our collaboration with STFC builds upon Hartree's successful engagement with industry and its record in commercializing technological developments, and provides a world-class environment using Watson and OpenPOWER technologies to extend the boundaries of big data and cognitive computing.”

Stokes said the Hartree Centre has helped businesses like Unilever and Glaxo SmithKline use high performance computing to improve the stability of home products such as fabric softeners, and to pinpoint links between genes and diseases.

“Data intensive techniques are transforming every discipline of science, and connecting these capabilities to the needs of industry has the potential to revolutionize every business sector,” said Professor John Womersley, chief executive of STFC, in a statement. “The government’s five-year investment in the Hartree Centre will deliver a step-change in capability in this area, and will bring in significant knowledge and expertise from IBM Research that will help ensure our science and industry remains at the very forefront of research and development.”

The STFC also will be accessing an OpenPOWER high performance computing server — an advanced data-centric system leveraging technologies from OpenPOWER Foundation members IBM, NVIDIA, and Mellanox.

"Both IBM and the STFC have the experience, resources and wherewithal to make this effort work, and both are likely to benefit commercially from the IP [intellectual property] derived from the project and from the engagements with businesses, universities and government agencies who participate in Hartree Centre projects," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, in a post on the partnership. "Overall, this partnership appears likely to benefit everyone involved. That certainly includes IBM and the STFC but over time the communities around Hartree Centre, other organizations involved in the project and a wide range of businesses and consumers will also be positively impacted by these efforts."