A History of Computing at Daresbury Laboratory

Rob Allan, Dave Cable, Tim Franks and Paul Kummer

Daresbury Laboratory



The Science and Technology Facilities Council, STFC, is a research council which operates world class large scale research facilities, provides strategic advice to Government on their development and manages international research projects in support of a broad cross section of the UK research community. In partnership with the other research councils, the STFC sets future priorities to meet UK science needs. The STFC operates several world class research centres formerly known as CLRC, including the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire, the Daresbury Laboratory (DL) in Cheshire and the Chilton Observatory in Hampshire.

We have collected together some facts and figures which give us a picture of the history of high performance computing to support scientific research at STFC over the last 40 years principally focussing on activities on what is now the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus but also making reference to related activities at RAL (now the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus). The development of applications and numerical algorithms is in many cases far more important than the evolution of computers. Moore's Law, which applied originally to the number of transistors on an integrated circuit is widely quoted and has knock on effects for performance of whole computing systems. New applications using our growing knowledge of how to represent scientific phenomena at various length scales can however give orders of magnitude improvement in performance and to tackle complex simulations otherwise un-achievable.

We however concentrate on the computers themselves in this retrospective survey showing how the evolving hardware has been used. Most of the information was originally collected around 1995, before the development of distributed computing and data management now known as e-Science. We have added further information more recently covering the early period. We have some supporting artefacts which are occasionally used for open days and school visits to Daresbury Laboratory, see https://www.scorpion-engineering.co.uk/computing_history/artefacts/dl.catalog.xml.

Links to additional material and photographs appear in a Web version which can be found at https://www.scorpion-engineering.co.uk/computing_history. A PDF version of The History of Computing at Daresbury is here https://www.scorpion-engineering.co.uk/computing_history/computing_history.pdf.

© STFC 2007-22. Neither the STFC Scientific Computing Department nor its collaborators accept any responsibility for loss or damage arising from the use of information contained in any of their reports or in any communication about their tests or investigations.

Rob Allan 2022-11-17