HEAnet to acquire a supercomputer


24 Jul 2006

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HEAnet, the ISP owned by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) which is responsible for providing broadband to Ireland’s universities, institutes of technology and researchers, is planning to buy a supercomputer for the Irish research community, siliconrepublic.com has learned.

In a tender published on the Department of Finance’s eTenders website, HEAnet identified a need within the Irish research infrastructure for an advanced architecture computer system capable of supporting cutting-edge research in computational science, a vital cog in Ireland’s knowledge economy.

A consortium consisting of the Irish Centre for High End Computing (ICHEC) and Cosmogrid, a research programme for grid computing funded by the HEA, has asked the HEA to meet this need.

CosmoGrid is a research programme to develop “grid-enabled computational physics of natural phenomena” funded by the HEA under the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI). The consortium is led by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, the other members being Armagh Observatory, Dublin City University (DCU), HEAnet, Met Eireann, National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway, Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork (UCC) and University College Dublin (UCD).

ICHEC was established with funding from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) by a consortium led by NUI Galway and including DCU, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, HEAnet, NUI Maynooth, Trinity College Dublin, the Tyndall Institute, UCC and UCD.

According to the tender documents, the proposed supercomputer must represent “a significant advance on what can be achieved using conventional cluster technologies with high performance interconnects”, such as infiniband.

The system must be able to simulate a variety of real-life applications using parallel processing ranging from climate-changing models and protein structures to structure calculations of nanomaterials.

A taste of the computing power needed for such a system can be seen through the need for sufficient bandwidth to the order of 1Gbps to an individual node with low latency and include high-performance storage capacity to facilitate analysis of large sets of data to the order of terabytes.

The system should support open standards for parallel processing and as far as possible use standard software interfaces and tools. The programming languages C, C++ and Fortran90 must be supported; support for JAVA would be advantageous. Porting of applications developed to the new architecture should be straightforward, the tender says.

According to the documents, it is envisaged that the contract will be awarded in October with a plan to conduct a final commissioning in October 2007.

By John Kennedy