Tuesday, 15 March 2016 16:13

Dell, CSIRO move supercomputing into 'software defined' era


A new system jointly designed by Dell and CSIRO extends the 'software defined' concept to supercomputing, and is allowing researchers to get results more quickly.

The Pearcey supercomputer - located at CSIRO's Canberra data centre - is built from Dell PowerEdge M630 blade servers and PowerEdge R930 servers, for a total of 230 nodes connected by Mellanox FDR InfiniBand.

16 of the M630s are linked by the ScaleMP software into a single 8TB cluster. The remainder each have 128GB of RAM, while the R930s have 3TB each for large memory applications.

Dell's APJ manager of high-performance computing Andrew Underwood said the software that orchestrates Pearcey is just as important as the hardware. As a "software defined HPC," it has a unique 'on-demand' nature in that it can be used as a traditional supercomputer or automatically reconfigure itself to suit particular workloads. This characteristic is especially valuable to researchers who are not computer scientists.

"For us, it's about enabling innovation," he told iTWire. "Systems like this haven't really been done before."

Pearcey is named after Trevor Pearcey, who led CSIR's (as the organisation was then known) project to build one of the world's first digital computers. The result was the CSIR Mk 1, subsequently renamed CSIRAC.

CSIRAC is the only intact survivor of that first generation of digital computers, and can be seen at the Melbourne Museum.

One of the CSIRO researchers using the Pearcey supercomputer is Dayalan Gunasegaram, who is part of a team developing an improved nylon mesh for use in pelvic organ surgery after childbirth. Such meshes are used to provide support for organs that have moved from their normal positions.

"Current mesh implants that haven't been well designed for this purpose can lead to pain and discomfort, so we've teamed up with researchers from Monash University to develop an improved mesh for supporting prolapsed organs and treating the condition more effectively," Dr Gunasegaram said.

CSIRO Blue lined mesh 10x 550

He uses finite element analysis to model the behaviour of the materials under normally occurring stresses such as coughing or running, a process that requires lots of processing power and memory to obtain results in a reasonable time.

Modelling allows unsuitable materials to be ruled out, thus avoiding the expense and ethical considerations associated with physical trials.

Dr Gunasegaram told iTWire that Pearcey has reduced the time needed from each run from weeks to days. "It's a total improvement in productivity. We can get to the final stage much quicker," perhaps in another 12 to 24 months.

The project has already been running for about a year, and with Pearcey "we expect things to ramp up pretty soon," he said.

CSIRO is in a unique position to do this work, Dr Gunasegaram said, as it understands textile technology, can knit experimental fabrics, has the expertise to do the modelling and stress tests, and has partnered with surgeons from Monash Health to gain the clinicians' viewpoint.

"It's a great story for women," said Underwood. "We're very proud to be part of that."

Dr Gunasegaram's CSIRO colleagues are using Pearcey in various other projects, including the molecular modelling of new materials such as corrosion inhibitors. A drop of water contains 10^21 molecules, so such models are clearly extremely computationally intensive.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.



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