50 Years of Research Computing Facilities

Since the early 1960's the organisations that now constitute the STFC have provided significant computing facilities to UK science. These have included world class computing power, networking, digital storage, as well as staff to provide not only professional support for the administration of these facilities, but also to develop applications for users. As computing has become more pervasive throughout society, and the costs have dramatically reduced, universities, then departments and now individuals can meet their own basic computing needs. STFC continues to provide for exceptionally large scale needs for the grand challenges of modern research. Today many of the numerical applications continue to be developed and associated activities are coordinated by the Computational Science and Engineering Department. Its staff provide a broad range of services to support science across the UK.

Significant Events in STFC Computing History

The following list illustrates some events which have had an impact on computing at STFC. Later sections give more information of systems at Daresbury Laboratory.

1767 Foundation of Her Majesty's Nautical Almanac Office.

1921 The Radio Research Station (later the Appleton Laboratory) was founded in Slough.

1938 Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS ) established at Bletchley Park (later GCHQ).

1947 Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC) computer being developed in Cambridge by Douglas Hartree and Maurice Wilkes.

1948 First stored program computer built by Williams and Kilburn at Manchester University, known as the Manchester Mark I [68].

1957 National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science (NIRNS) set up.

1958 The Rutherford High Energy Laboratory (RHEL) was founded as a NIRNS establishment.

1962 The Daresbury Laboratory founded as a NIRNS establishment.

1962 RHEL installed Ferranti Orion computer which ran until 1967.

1963 Construction work started at Daresbury in November. It was to be home to the new National Institute Northern Acceletator, NINA and the total cost would be £4.5M.

1964 The Atlas Computing Laboratory was established for civil research at Chilton to operate the world's most powerful computer, the Ferranti Atlas computer, with staff from GC&CS, GCHQ and Harwell.

1965 The Science Research Council (SRC, to become SERC in 1981) was created and took responsibility for the two NIRNS establishments, the Appleton Laboratory and the Royal Observatories at Greenwich and Edinburgh.

1966 Daresbury laboratory installed an IBM 1800 in June and IBM 360/50 in July. The 1800 was a data acquisition and control system while the 360 was used for data analysis, data being stored on magnetic tape. NINA was the world's first automated accelerator facility.

1967 The Chilbolton Observatory with its newly built 25 metre radar antenna was opened.

1967 Daresbury Laboratory was officially opened by Rt. Hon. the Prime Minister Harold Wilson on 16th June.

1968 Atlas staff produce the first commercially distributed computer animated film. At this time an IBM 360/75 was in use which had been purchased in 1966 at a cost of approx. £1M.

1968 IBM 360/65 installed at Daresbury in November and ran until January 1973. Prof. Brian Flowers also visited Daresbury that month with the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

1971 RHEL install an IBM 360/195 for £2.5M. With a second processor and series of upgrades, this continued in service until 1982.

1972 Twelve private data lines for remote job entry were linked to RHEL from UK universities and CERN.

1972 SRF, synchrotron radiation facility at Daresbury demonstrated the use of radiation as a spin off from NINA for a range of experiments other than nuclear physics.

1973 Chilton Atlas was replaced by an ICL 1906A in April.

1973 IBM 370/165 installed at Daresbury in January

1973 The IBM 360/195 at RHEL became the first machine outside the USA to connect to the ARPAnet, it was also the most powerful machine on the ARPAnet at the time. The connection was made through University College London and then via Norway to the USA.

1974 The SRS, a dedicated Synchrotron Radiation Source, was proposed in May and approved on 12/5/1975. £3M capital was to be made available.

1975 The Atlas Computing Laboratory was renamed the Atlas Centre and merged with the Rutherford Laboratory.

1975 The Appleton Laboratory relocated from Slough to Chilton and merged with the Rutherford Laboratory to form Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

1975 SRCnet was established linking the 360/195 at Rutherford with the 370/165 at Daresbury and the ICL 1906A on the Atlas site.

1977 NINA facility closed on 1/4/1977 to make way for the SRS.

1978 Permission was granted for the building of the NSF, Daresbury's Nuclear Structure Facility, at an estimated cost of £4M.

1978 The first Cray-1 supercomputer in the UK is installed at the Daresbury laboratory where it ran for around 5 years.

1980 SRS at Daresbury was established as a dedicated synchrotron radiation facility. The facility was inaugurated by the Rt. Hon. Mark Carlisle, Secretary for State for Education and Science on 7th November.

1981 ICL launch the Perq as the first commercial graphics workstation running software developed at RAL.

1981 Hitachi NAS AS/7000 installed at Daresbury in June and ran until 16/12/1988.

1981 Nuclear Structure Facility at Daresbury building commissioned.

1981 A mass storage facility is introduced at RAL with 110 GB.

1982 RAL IBM system replaced by the newer 3032 and 3081D.

1982 NSF startup on 10/1982 was followed by its official inauguration by Sir Keith Joseph on 27/9/1983.

1984 SRCnet is extended to become the first UK national computing network - JANET.

1987 A Cray X-MP/48 was brought into service at RAL.

1988 Convex C220 installed at Daresbury and ran until 1994

1989-90 Meiko M10 and M60 parallel computers at Daresbury. An Intel iPSC/2 was also installed in June 1990 and used until 1993.

1992 JANET becomes the highest performance X.25 network in the world.

1992 Cray Y-MP81/8128 replaces the Cray X-MP/48.

1992 RAL installs one of the first 50 Web servers in the world.

1994 UKERNA was spun out as a private company from the RAL network group to provide the UK's education and research network JANET.

1995 The UK Research Councils were re-structured. A new research council, eventually named CCLRC, was formed to operate the Daresbury, Rutherford Appleton and Chilbolton Laboratories.

1996 IBM SP/2 parallel computer installed at Daresbury.

1997 The first regional office of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is established for the UK, based at RAL.

1998 Royal Greenwich Observatory closed and Her Majesty's Nautical Almanac Office moved to RAL.

1998 Usage of RAL mass storage exceeds enough to transfer the names of everybody on the planet each day.

1998 Re-construction of the Manchester Mark I computer and demonstration of the first working module at the Daresbury Open Day. Completed machine is now in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.

1999 The Director General of the Research Councils, John Taylor and STFC staff design the UK e-Science programme to focus funding on computationally intensive science that is carried out in highly distributed network environments. This includes science that uses immense quantities of data that require Grid computing.

2001 CCLRC e-Science Centre established to spearhead the exploitation of e-Science technologies throughout CCLRC's programmes, the research communities they support and the national science and engineering base.

2002 HPCx starts operation at Daresbury Laboratory as the 5th most powerful computer in the world.

2005 National Grid Service established.

2006 North West Grid established with services at Daresbury and universities of Lancaster, Liverpool and Manchester.

2006 RAL Tier-1 Grid computing service for high energy physics sustains 200 Mbyte/s data transfer to CERN to break world record.

2006 Atlas Petabyte Data Store provides 5 Petabytes of storage.

2007 CCLRC merged with PPARC to become STFC.

2010 End of HPCx service.

2011 Government awarded over £145M to a number of projects nation wide to form the UK e-Infrastructure. This included £37.5M to improve the infrastructure and buy new facilities at Daresbury founding the Hartree Centre.

2012 STFC's Computational Science and Engineering Department and e-Science Centre merged again to form the Scientific Computing Department.

2012 STFC's Hartree Centre was formed so support UK industry through digital transformation.

Figure 1: Rebuilt Manchester Mark I
Image rebuildCB

For a history of parallel computing with a general timeline see [47].

For information about the Atlas 50th celebration 4-6/12/2012 see

For more general computing history and the influence of women in computer science and computation science see here: (note takes a few seconds to open).

Rob Allan 2022-11-17