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Q&A: Powering a supercomputer

On 24 February this year, the business secretary, Sajid Javid, announced a wide-ranging review to improve business access to broadband. The importance of fast, reliable and secure broadband is well understood as it’s essential for organisations to remain competitive and improve their services.

The Met Office’s next generation supercomputer demonstrates this, relying on connectivity to produce accurate weather predictions and up-to-date reports to its customers. The contract to provide the connectivity that will power the supercomputer was won by Virgin Media Business and we spoke to them about the deal.

1. How fast is the connectivity?

Virgin Media Business will supply 2 fully diverse, high capacity optical circuits. Each circuit will carry 6 x 1Gbps, 1 x 10Gbps and 1 x 100Gbps Ethernet services.

2. How common is it that companies need this level of connectivity?

We are seeing significant growth in the need for this level of connectivity. Bandwidth consumption is growing exponentially and with the emergence of more big data technologies, Cloud based applications and data analytic services this trend is only set to continue.

3. How long is the contract for?

We won a five year contract to deliver the Interconnection between the Met Office supercomputers.

4. You say that you have created a bespoke service to carry the large volumes of data – what make it different? How long did it take to develop?

It is bespoke in that each design is done specifically around the customer’s unique requirements. Physically we needed to take into account duct and fibre routes to ensure the circuits are always separated by at least 20 metres throughout our network. From a technical perspective we designed the service to provide nearly limitless future capacity as well as the ability to easily increase the number of services that run across it, regardless of speed or protocol.

5. Have you provided a similar bespoke service for other companies?

Yes, we have provided bespoke high capacity services for many customers across the country, all uniquely designed to cater for their current needs and future expansion plans.

6. Were there any particular challenges in creating this service?

No. We worked with the customer to understand their exact requirements and then designed the solution based upon the use of our very own next-generation fibre network. This allows us total control over every aspect of the project from the initial design through to implementation and ongoing management 24/7.

7. What are the most important characteristics of successfully powering a computer capable of 23,000 trillion calculations per second?

Security and reliability, ultra-low latency and a level of availability in the ‘five 9s’. This then needs to be underpinned by industry leading service level agreements and backed up by first class service management.

8. The government announced a business broadband review with the aim of every business, regardless of size or location, to benefit from access to fast, reliable connectivity. What can companies like Virgin Media do to support this initiative?

We think that it is vital businesses have access to reliable connectivity which is why we already have a range of services we offer to businesses of all sizes. This includes ultrafast business broadband with speeds of up to 300Mbps, as well as bespoke leased line solutions and connectivity for businesses in tech clusters such as London and Birmingham.

We’re currently expanding our network to 4 million premises across the UK.