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Friday, 08 July 2011 13:44

Swinburne snags a supercomputer


Swinburne University of Technology has signed a contract with Silicon Graphics to provide the first phase of the university's new supercomputer, combinining traditional CPU-based hardware and emerging graphics processing unit technology.


According to Swinburne, the new supercomputer will incorporate the GPU Supercomputer for Theoretical Astrophysics Research (gSTAR) which will operate as a national high performance computing (HPC) facility for astronomers but will also have time available for other Swinburne researchers.

Dr Jarrod Hurley, Swinburne's supercomputer manager, said the university was committed to maintaining its position as a leader in academic supercomputing, while providing HPC facilities to meet the research needs of staff and students.

In 2007, the university spent $1 million on the 'Green Machine', an HPC facility comprising over 1200 processing cores. It has been heavily used by Swinburne researchers with world-class outputs in areas ranging from molecular dynamics to galaxy formation.

'This system is almost fully utilised, while the demand for supercomputing power continues to grow,' Hurley said.

Phase 1 of the new supercomputer focuses on GPU-based nodes, data storage and associated interconnect hardware.

'The combined theoretical performance of gSTAR is in excess of 130 TFLOPS, which is ten times more powerful than the Green Machine,' Hurley said. 'The computing power provided by GPUs will open up new avenues for cutting-edge simulations and rapid processing of telescope data'.'¨'¨Hurley said the first phase of the project will also deliver over 1 Petabyte or 1.8 million Gigabytes of rapid-access usable disk space to Swinburne researchers, a massive increase over existing resources.

Professor Matthew Bailes, the university's Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research said this is the key for rapid discovery on the new facility. 'It's all very well to have enormous computational power, but this new beast will combine that with astonishing data throughput and capacity, an aspect of supercomputers that is often overlooked,' he said.

There will also be a number of memory nodes available, each with 512 Gigabytes of memory, to facilitate processing and visualisation of large datasets, all interconnected by a QDR infiniband network that gives nodes up to 40 Gigabytes of throughput - over 10,000 times faster than a typical Australian broadband connection.

The first phase of the facility is expected to be available in September 2011 and will be housed in Swinburne's new Data Centre. Phase 2, which will focus primarily on CPU-based compute nodes, will be completed by early 2012.

'We are delighted to be involved in the gSTAR project and confident that this dramatic increase in computational capability will greatly assist scientists at Swinburne to progress their leading research,' said Nick Gorga, General Manager, Silicon Graphics Australia/NZ.

Procurement of the HPC facility is a joint effort between the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Swinburne Research and Information Technology Services, with input from the Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing and external astronomers.

Swinburne has said the total cost of the new supercomputer will be in the range of $2.5-3.0 million when completed, including $1.04 million from a federal government Education Investment Fund grant for gSTAR.

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