BEAR: Thought for Food?

Published: Posted on

From Conception to Pathology, the Big Bang to its final echoes, all human life and endeavour is here…. potentially!

The Birmingham Environment for Academic Research (BEAR) provides services and support for a whole rainbow of research projects across a multiplicity of disciplines. BEAR and the Research Computing Team are actively engaged in supporting hundreds of research projects; in some cases simply providing secure and fast storage or compute power while in others partnering to ensure bid success or to provide new ways of tackling challenges.

From very small beginnings, BEAR and the Team have been growing for the past five years in direct response to the expanding demand and the recognition of the possibilities ‘digital’ presents. Of course, some disciplines have been doing digital for more than half a century; for others the opportunities are only just becoming apparent. This diversity is one of our core challenges as we work with explorers as well as experts with quite specific needs. While there are still some limits to what is possible, both BEAR and the Team are available to support the full spectrum of research. Not knowing what the next request will be or where it will come from makes for an exciting working day and keeps the Team on its toes. The diversity as well as the need for accessibility and flexibility has also driven the development of our new facilities and capabilities for ‘super’-computing to add to the established, traditional HPC (high performance computing).

The growing demand for our services is evident from the Service Desk tickets which log and track requests to the Team as well as any fault reports. Our tickets are overwhelmingly ‘can I have?’ or ‘can you help?’ What emerges from the ticket history, is a clear doubling pattern over recent years. The expansion of the services we offer and particularly the addition of free storage (tightly integrated to all our compute offerings) and a Sync ‘n Share service (to facilitate collaboration) have been key to catalyzing that demand. Unsurprisingly, these factors have been putting the Team under considerable pressure over recent months. The good news is that both the pressure on the Team and the value of BEAR have been recognized and are starting to be addressed. We have just completed a recruitment round and are delighted to be welcoming new additions to the Team.

The Research Computing Team (aka the BEAR Team) is organized in three groups, each with a Group Leader:

  • Architecture, Infrastructure and Systems (AIS)   Simon Thompson
  • Engagement (REG)                                              Aslam Ghumra
  • Software (RSG)                                                    Andrew Edmondson (Ed)

In the coming year, the additional resource will be applied not only to maintain responsive services but also to speed up developments and to automate or streamline unnecessarily time-consuming tasks. We are also planning to run our basic training sessions more frequently as well as adding to the topics covered and co-ordinating them with training offered elsewhere e.g. by the Library and Graduate School. You will see changes to the BEAR web site as we work to make it easier to navigate both for newcomers and for those who want direct access to the technical detail. At the same time, we will be reviewing user guidance and looking at better ways to provide the information.

Although we have been building applications and making them available on our HPC service for many years, the formation of the new RSG and the addition of Research Software Engineers will mean a step-change. This investment will significantly boost support for Research Groups as they develop and use software in their analysis. The Software Sustainability Institute is printing T-Shirts with their slogan ‘better software, better research’; a sentiment we whole-heartedly support and will be aiming to champion at Birmingham. Not only is better software good for research but it can also make huge savings in terms of time/effort and compute power – all of which means hard cash that can be better used to do more.

For a summary of BEAR services and ways to contact the Team, see

For the new services RSG will be offering, see