Western Australia unwraps $1m supercomputer

Western Australia's Interactive Virtual Environment's Centre (Ivec) has purchased a 160-processor supercomputer bringing it in line with other facilities in the Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing's (APAC) national grid.

As reported by Computerworld, Ivec received $3.1 million in government funding for the next generation facility, dubbed Ivec2, last year and will also commission an AMD-based cluster from supercomputing vendor Cray. The remaining tendered amount of $1 million has now been spent on an SGI Altix machine which will be installed at the Australian Resources Research Centre (ARRC) node and will complement the new Cray system being installed at the University of Western Australia.

Professor Andrew Rohl, Ivec's director, told Computerworld the new machine will be used to advance research into minerals exploration including "where the next gold strike will be".

"To simulate the geology we need to put faults into the computer to determine how those faults occurred," Rohl said.

Consisting of 160 Itanium2 processors, 320GB of shared memory, and more than 12TB of high-speed disk, the new machine is expected to perform just shy of one teraflop - around 30 times more powerful than Ivec's modest 16 processor Alpha-based system. The computer will run the SuSE Linux operating system.

Rohl said the Altix should have the largest amount of addressable memory of any computer in Australia, and because it is a single system will make application development easier.

SGI beat five other contenders for the deal, including a number of commodity cluster proposals.

"I was pleasantly surprised at how much SGI could offer for the price compared to a commodity cluster," he said. "The value proposition is getting better and there is no premium for custom interconnects over Myrinet or Infiniband."

The machine will be used in the APAC national grid project allowing researchers from around the country to use spare capacity. Rohl said the common Itanium2 architecture with the APAC national facility being installed in Canberra will also help research collaboration.

Delivery is expected to begin immediately and installation completed by August.

"We can split it into two machines if need be and plan to get extra disk," Rohl said. "There is very fast access to disk at 400 megabytes per second; a cheaper system would not have delivered the data as quickly."

Ivec plans to extend its project work with industry but has no plans to sell capacity for commercial use.

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