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Aussie astronomy supercomputer in Top 100

Photo of POD in-situ at iVEC@Murdoch.

The POD supercomputer at the iVEC computing centre at Murdoch University. It has been ranked at number 87 in the world league table of supercomputers.

  • First stage of supercomputer ranks number 87 in the world
  • When finished it will be 15 times faster still
  • Will support advanced research using the Square Kilometre Array telescope

Western Australia has entered the prestigious ranks of the top 100 supercomputers on the planet, thanks to the installation of a Performance Optimised Data Centre (POD) at iVEC’s Murdoch facility.

iVEC is an advanced computer centre in Perth. It is a joint venture between CSIRO, Curtin University of Technology, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University and The University of Western Australia and is supported by the Western Australian Government.

A global gauge of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, the prestigious Top 500 List has embraced the Hewlett- Packard (HP)-developed POD, which takes its place at number 87 following its delivery to iVEC@Murdoch.

Only one other Australian supercomputer ranks above the POD in the Top 500 list, with the National Computational Infrastructure facility in Canberra coming in at #51.

The POD is Stage 1A of the $80M Pawsey Centre project, commissioned under the Commonwealth government’s $1.1 billion Super Science Initiative to establish a petascale supercomputing facility.

Artist's impression of the SKA

Artist's impression of the core of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope network. It will be one the largest scientific facilities ever made.

The Pawsey Centre was established with the primary role of hosting new high performance computing facilities and expertise to support SKA (Square Kilometre Array) research and other high-end science.

The SKA will be a huge network of radio telescope antennae, and will be one of the world’s largest scientific facilities. Two regions are bidding for the rights to host the facility: a joint Australia-New Zealand big, and a consortium of countries in southern Africa.

The secondary goal of the Pawsey Centre is to demonstrate Australia’s ability to deliver and support world-class advanced ICT infrastructure and therefore strengthen Australia’s bid to host the SKA, which is critically dependant on advanced ICT.

When complete in early 2013, the final Pawsey Centre’s facilities are expected to operate up to 15 times faster than the POD, and will eventually see it climb to the top echelon of the world’s supercomputing centres and establish Australia’s commitment to supercomputing.

“Australian scientists are now generating massive amounts of experimental data in computationally demanding areas such as radioastronomy, nanoscience, geoscience and life science,” says iVEC@Murdoch Associate Director, Professor Matthew Bellgard.

Adapted from information issued by iVEC / ICRAR / CSIRO.

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Supercomputer to boost Australian astronomy

A simulation of dark matter distribution

A simulation of the spread of dark matter in the universe, produced using a current-generation Swinburne University supercomputer. The new supercomputer will be up to 100 times better.

A multi-million dollar upgrade to Swinburne University’s supercomputer will make it a leading research facility for the Australian astronomy community.

The upgrade, which will receive $1 million from the Federal Government’s Education Investment Fund (EIF) and $2 million from Swinburne, will dramatically increase the speed and capacity of the facility—now known as ‘gSTAR’.

The EIF funding will finance the installation of Graphics Processing Units (GPUs), or ‘extra brains’ for the supercomputer. Originally developed by the computer gaming industry, GPUs are a type of processor designed to perform simple tasks in a massively-parallel way that leads to enormous increases in computational power.

The Swinburne contribution will be used to upgrade the existing Central Processing Units (CPUs) and the mass storage system and pay for a new machine room to host the facility.

According to Swinburne astrophysicist Dr Darren Croton, the installation of the GPUs will boost the supercomputer’s speed between two and 100 times, depending on the application.

“This means an astrophysics simulation that would previously have taken three months to complete might only take a single day.

“This huge advance in power gives us the opportunity to tackle problems that are potentially 100 times harder,” he said.

A rack of computer equipment

The new supercomputer will used technology adapted from games computers.

Specially designed for astronomy

While there are other supercomputer facilities in Australia that are also starting to use GPU technology, they cater to a wide range of researchers and interests.

“Because these are general purpose facilities, they have to be set up in a very general way,” Croton said.

“The gSTAR’s power lies in its unique application. It will be optimised for astronomy simulations and data processing, which means it will have the same amount of power as other facilities for about one percent of the cost. That’s bang for your buck.”

Croton said that the university will make the gSTAR a national facility for astronomers across the country.

“We’re making the gSTAR and its predecessor available to astronomers from other universities and research centres.”

“In exchange the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) National Facility is funding a support person who will provide expertise and guidance to researchers, helping them optimise their code.”

The upgrade, which will see the raw power of the Swinburne supercomputer go from 10 teraflops to 600 teraflops, is expected to be completed early- to mid-next year.

Adapted from information issued by Swinburne University / Image by Dr Gregory Poole, Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology.