Our facilities includes a fully integrated visualisation suite with various labs such as remote sensing, landscape and virtual worlds, agent-based modelling, and design lab. Fully integrated with the University network and preferentially cabled to the University compute clusters, VISTA provides an exceptional environment for HPC and distributed computing. The BEAR cluster currently provides 384 dual-processor dual-core (4 cores/node) 64-bit 2.6 GHz AMD Opteron 2218 worker nodes giving a total of 1536 cores. Most of these nodes have 8 GB of memory with 16 of them having 16 GB, 4 quad-processor dual-core (8 cores/node) 64-bit 2.6 GHz AMD Opteron 8218 nodes with 32 GB of memory. Locally, VISTA also maintains Intel Xeon (Nehalem) architecture render farm (64 cores, 128GB RAM), Mechdyne Powerwall and ROVR, 2x Mechdyne Optical Tracking Systems plus a multi-touch table for display. Software provision includes Aviso, Tigress, SMT Kingdom, Opendtect 3.2.2, Maya 2011, 3DSMax 2011, Blender 2.49, Unity Pro 3.2, CryEngine 3.0, Unreal Development Kit, Adobe Design Suite CS4, Blueberry Modelling Software, Conduit (with 3DSMax and Google Earth, Google Sketchup and Esri ArcGIS Plugins). Dedicated fibre to NAS residing in University Server farm. Whilst VISTA provides the majority of resources in terms of storage and distributed services the budget contains provision for 7 workstations for PhDs and Post doctoral researchers.

Explore Our Facilities and Compute Below
   VISTA Suite


VISTA Visualisation Suite


VISTA visualisation suite features a wide range of technologies for the primary purpose of large scale visualisation and video conferencing. The Centre is dominated by the main 4.27m by 1.8m dual channel rear projection Powerwall installed by Mechdyne. This is utilised in conjunction with a Mechdyne optical tracking system to facilitate full immersive stereoscopic display with a high degree of geometric accuracy. The centre is also host to an AccessGrid node which facilitates the use of the centre as a high performance video conferencing/ collaboration facility. This suite is available for use by clients and partners.



   Remote Sensing Lab


VISTA Remote Sensing Laboratory


The Vista remote sensing laboratory provides the focus for archaeological and environmental research remote sensing and consultancy. Core workstation facilities provide access to a suite of software tools, including standard GIS and image processing applications (ArcGIS 9.2, Erdas Imagine 9.1, Idrisi 32). We also maintain specialist workstation facilities for the processing and analysis of airborne laser scanning data (Applied Imagery Quick Terrain Modeler) and hyperspectral imagery (Azimuth System’s AZGCORR 5.0).



   Landscape Research Lab


VISTA Landscape Research Laboratory


Establish in 2004 to provide another facility to cope with the large scale landscape analysis performed at VISTA. This laboratory hosts a dedicated cluster of high performance 64bit machines which have dedicated access to the main campus file storage system through an optic fibre link. This conjunction of high performance networking and computing allows the Laboratory to routinely handle vast data-sets which modern archaeological landscape and archaeo-geophysical analysis now requires.


The Landscape Research Laboratory houses resources of several VISTA divisions, including GIS and Marine Geophysics.



   Virtual Worlds Lab


Virtual Worlds Laboratory


The Virtual World Laboratory is a recent addition to the VISTA facilities and strengthens the capabilities in the research field of object scanning. Provisioned with five NextEngine object scanners as well as a Minolta VIVID 910 this laboratory allows for teaching of students in addition to its primary role of digital recording.

For a full list of 3D Laser Scanning resource, click here.




   Agent-Based Modelling Lab






   Design Lab


Design Centre


Located in Mechanical Engineering, the Design Centre is an important outstation of VISTA. This facility provides access to a range of visual technologies and scanning equipment. VISTA facilities within the design centre also include a Mechdyne ROVR and optical tracking system (pictured) which allow immersive analysis and visualisation of work performed at the Design Centre. Its compact design and framework effectively makes it a mobile visualisation suite, and a valuable addition to VISTA's visualisation resource.



   Teaching Cluster


VISTA Teaching Cluster


Teaching is an important element of VISTA activities. This is realised through the use of a dedicated teaching room which is provisioned with all the necessary software and hardware to fulfil the teaching requirements of the latest spatial and visual technologies. The cluster is home to VISTA's MA taught courses and consists of ten dedicated student machines and one teaching/presenter node. The Teaching Cluster is also utilised for other IAA and Birmingham Archaeology run courses and training.


Teaching Room





VISTA Compute - Network Resources


VISTA is well provisioned in terms of networked resources. The first level of networked resources are dedicated campus network connections, which allows for rapid network data transfers across campus and fast internet access to the outside world.


The Centre also possesses a dedicated private low latency network running at 1Gbs which allows direct access via fibre optics to the centres NAS file storage space allowing very large data transfer and retrieval with virtually no contention.


At a higher level the centre is also directly linked, via a dedicated Optic fibre, with the University main compute cluster the BEAR environment, to allow access to the clusters 1,500 cores and 150TB of file store.

VISTA is also proud to be home to Birmingham Universities UKLight connection which allows the VISTA centre to access a 10Gbs super low latency link to many UK and European institutions.


Compute Cables




VISTA Compute - Desktop Resources


  • High-end 64bit workstations with nVIDIA Quadro Graphics cards allowing the centre to visualise the latest high resolution imagery in conjunction with active stereo viewing.
  • Lower specification 32bit workstations available for standard software visualisation purposes.
  • High specification workstation specifically set-up for Archaeo-geophysical interpretation.
  • Aurora, a small mixed architecture render farm which features 32 cores and over 80GB of Physical RAM that facilitates increased capacity for the centres animation and visualisation activities.
  • Direct link to the University main compute cluster the BEAR environment and is able to directly utilise and interface with this modern high performance computing resource. This is linkage is vital in enabling the visualisation of the outputs of this 1,500 core resource.




   Access Grid


Access Grid Node


The VISTA Centre has an Access Grid node. This provides multi-site interactive conferencing over the Internet and is especially valuable for clients who have collaborative projects spanning many, possibly international, sites.


Access Grid


The Access Grid technology differs from conventional ISDN video-conferencing by offering multi-site conferences (it has been used for a conference involving 16 sites) and from one-to-many broadcasting of, for example, teaching material in that all of the sites interact with each other. Sophisticated voice and especially video compression algorithms mean that latency is much lower than with other technologies; conferences involving the US, European sites and UK sites are routinely held. The IAA ran an HEA project on the use of the Access Grid in postgraduate research and for harmonising curricula between institutions. Further details of the underlying technology are available on the Access Grid website.


Access Grid


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