University Campus Suffolk keeps gaming students online with Fujitsu HPC

University Campus Suffolk (UCS) has replenished its game engineering department with High Power Computing (HPC) workstations to ensure high availability for students who were throwing “more at the hardware than it could manage”.

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University Campus Suffolk (UCS) has replenished its game engineering department with High Power Computing (HPC) workstations to ensure high availability for students who were throwing “more at the hardware than it could manage”.

UCS – a merger of University of East Anglia and the University of Essex - runs a commercially focused Computer Games Design degree that needed to keep up with the billion-pound global industry. Current and prospective students demanded a high performance design platform to render video and animation, virtual testing and for applying complex games engines – all at a competitive price.

Chris Janes, computer games design lecturer at UCS, said: “Before we migrated to the Fujitsu workstation platform, we were relying on a competitor’s consumer desktop computers. Whilst these computers were well-suited to the average gamer’s bedroom, they weren’t really up to the job that we needed them to do.

"Students were pushing the limits of the hardware, and frequently found that it was letting them down. Students were blunt with us [saying] change the hardware, so that we can get creative.”

Janes added: “Every day we expect the Fujitsu workstations to smoothly integrate Photoshop, Adobe Premiere Pro, 3D Studio Max, plus the Unreal and Unity games engines, into a seamless experience for our students. We know that they’ll throw far more at the hardware than it can manage, and in the past this has resulted in system crashes and a lot of downtime.”

The department needed computers that could run at least three virtual machine instances, allowing students to test single and multi-player games, render video in Adobe Premiere Pro and animations in 3D Studio Max, as well as handling demands of the gaming-specific engines simultaneously.

UCS installed 45 CELSIUS M730 Workstations featuring an Intel Xeon E5 processor, one Intel Xeon E5-1620v2 3,70GHz 10MB Turbo Boost, and an NVIDIA graphics card and a two terabyte SATA 3, 7.2K RPM hard drive.

From delivery to implementation took about one week, with Janes overseeing the imaging and testing of all 40 machines, plus four machines for Games Design lecturing staff. Student PCs are not locked down, and users are free to download and run software of their choice on top of a basic build, which includes Windows 7 (64 bit), Maya, the Unity and Unreal games engines, Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro. PCs are re-imaged as and when required by lab assistants, to ensure that students have a consistent experience throughout the year.  

Reduced heat and noise

Computer noise and heat levels were a concern as the department needed to pack all workstations into the laboratory.  

“Whilst heat and noise isn’t normally an issue in an average lab, gaming PCs are pushed to their limits, and whilst working at 100 percent any weaknesses will be revealed. In our case we found that the collective heat noise and lack of performance of our existing PCs were driving students out of the labs, making it harder for them and us to organise coursework”, said Hanes.

But following the installation, Janes said: “There is the merest whisper from it under heavy load.”

In April, UCS began a project to replace its legacy HP servers with Fujitsu’s vShape virtualised infrastructure, allowing it to increase compute capacity in a smaller data centre space.

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