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Simon Thompson on Life and Research Computing

Simon Thompson shares about the challenges of research computing

Simon Thompson poses in the research data center at the University of Birmingham

Simon Thompson poses in the research data center at the University of Birmingham., Image by Sean Malyon

Name: Simon Thompson 
Title: Research computing infrastructure architect 
Company name: University of Birmingham 
Company’s function: Higher education 
Headquarters: Birmingham, England 
IT Experience: 18 years, 16 of which have been supporting university research projects

How did you end up in IT? I’ve worked in IT since graduating from university, but before then, we had computers at home—I grew up with the BBC Micro and later, the Sinclair Spectrum before eventually moving onto the IBM PC. I went on to study computer science at university and then got my first job as a systems administrator. I now design and build supercomputers and storage systems to support research across the university.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your company today? As an IT provider who’s there solely to support researcher workloads and data retention, being agile enough to respond to changing priorities is key.

What do you think “the next big thing” for your business will be? Right now, we’re seeing a big increase in demand for artificial intelligence (AI) systems from across the university.

What IBM product could your company not function without? We rely on a number of IBM products to support our systems: IBM Spectrum* Scale is relied on heavily for our storage architectures at scale. It underpins everything we do and will be key in supporting data locality for our AI AC922 workloads.

What business skill would you most like to acquire or improve? I have a team of people I manage and I’m still learning how to support them.

What trends are affecting your work? Our funding so far has been fairly stable, but changes in currency due to Brexit have affected our purchasing powers.

What’s your favorite part of your day and why? Evenings—when the children are asleep and I can talk to my wife or catch up on some TV.

What’s your favorite activity outside of work? I really enjoy taking my kids to the theater—seeing the performers' dancing, acting or singing abilities is amazing. My kids really enjoy experiencing it as well. I’m also a bit of a geek, so playing around with technology is something I enjoy.

What’s the geekiest thing you’ve ever owned? I’ve got quite a lot of home automation technology at home, but I can’t just leave it as is. I like getting stuff where you can change the firmware. For example, my daughter has a bunch of LED lights that I can change the color of over the internet—or just turn off when she’s messing with them at night! 

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