IT IS claimed to be the equivalent for computers, of motorists upgrading from a Ford Fiesta to a Formula One car - allowing online work that takes days, to be completed in hours or even minutes.

A pilot project is to link a high performance computing (HPC) network hub in Inverness and Easter Ross with computer clusters in other parts of the UK, as well as in Europe, China, Japan and the US.

The IT giant Fujitsu, which has bases in the Highland capital and Alness, is to launch the four-month trial of the super-fast computer service with The Highland Council and Energy North, the trade group of over 200 members in the oil and gas, renewable energy and nuclear industries.

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HPC can handle and analyse huge amounts of data at high speed, giving businesses and research institutions unprecedented problem- solving power that will accelerate and improve their work. Among its countless uses, HPC can advance medical research and treatments, develop climate change technology, create complex simulations and animated graphics and carry out rapid mathematical calculations.

Fujitsu, which will fund the pilot, says it has been inspired by proposals for a Highland Science Skills Academy which is aimed at growing science, IT and technology careers.

With HPC in the Highland region, Fujitsu and other companies would be able to consider establishing research and development operations in the area, which would be a catalyst for bringing new, highly-qualified posts to theremote region.

The system will use a portal to connect initially to a HPC cluster in Wales and, ultimately, to a pilot scheme in Northern Ireland, and Fujitsu operations at Hayes in Middlesex, as well as facilities in Europe, Japan and the US. Drew Hendry, Leader of The Highland Council, said HPC would open up a "new world of potential" for Highlands businesses.