Kiwi uni buys into Blue Gene

New system could make the Top 100

The University of Canterbury in New Zealand will be the first research institution in the southern hemisphere to have an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer it announced today.

The acquisition of the Blue Gene/L was approved by the university's council yesterday and will be installed in July.

Other universities using Blue Gene supercomputers include Harvard University, Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.

Blue Gene began as an IBM research project, but the company has been selling units for commercial and research use for a few years now.

University of Canterbury vice-chancellor Professor Roy Sharp said the Blue Gene, which the university has dubbed "Blue Fern", demonstrates its commitment to being a leading research institution.

"Blue Fern will be one of the 25 most powerful supercomputers operating in academia worldwide," Sharp said. "Its significant computing power will be available to researchers around New Zealand and will enable research never before possible in this country."

Researchers at the Universities of Canterbury and Christchurch are already planning to collaborate on medical questions around stroke and diabetes throughout New Zealand.

"For the first time, they will be able to model blood flow and complex chemical reactions in the entire human brain, and mimic the interactions of the millions of nephrons that make up the human kidney, enabling insights not previously possible in New Zealand," Sharp said.

The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, Victoria University of Wellington, and AUT University will be foundation partners in the Blue Gene project.

Blue Gene has a modular design allowing for computing components, or "racks", to be added as needed.

The University of Canterbury will use two racks and may be New Zealand's most powerful system, and could even rank in the Top 100 most powerful supercomputers in the world.

The closest Australian researchers have come to a Blue Gene was in 2005 when a system toured the country.

IBM New Zealand managing director Katrina Troughton said IBM's relationship with the University of Canterbury was the key factor in its decision to work together to install a Blue Gene in New Zealand.

"Our partnership in UCi3, the NZ ICT Innovation Institute, has strengthened our relationship, given us insight into the university's vision and capabilities, and allowed IBM and the university to identify areas of mutual research interest," Troughton said. "Blue Gene has become an essential research engine for scientists around the world since its introduction in 1999 and is currently working across all the major scientific disciplines."

The university did not release the cost of the new box, but Blue Genes don't come cheap with starting prices from $US1 million.

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