​University of Queensland taps big data tech

The University of Queensland has inked a multimillion-dollar deal for the development of a supercomputer designed to handle the big data behind complex research projects.

The University of Queensland is taking a big dive into big data technology after signing a multimillion-dollar deal with Australian high performance computing player Xenon Systems for a bespoke supercomputer designed to crunch the numbers for large research projects.

The proposed "Flashlite" computer, which is scheduled to be up and running at the university by July, stands to be the first of its kind in Australia, according to Xenon Systems.

Xenon was awarded the contract for the machine, which will be built at the company's Melbourne headquarters, after the university issued a tender invitation in August last year for the supply of a so-called Flashlite system, for which it planned to spend up to AU$2.4 million.

The design of the proposed supercomputer was inspired by the United States' National Science Foundation supercomputer Gordon, which was named after the comic strip superhero Flash Gordon.

Like Gordon, the University of Queensland's proposed Flashlite machine differs from other supercomputers in that it relies on high-speed flash-based solid-state drives, rather than traditional hard disk drives, for its memory requirements.

The system will incorporate 1,632 central processing unit cores, claiming Rpeak of 65.28 teraflops per second. It will also have 34.8 terabytes of DDR4 RAM, 326.4TB of NVMe flash storage, and 68 compute nodes.

According to professor David Abramson, director of the University of Queensland's Research Computing Centre and the system's designer, the supercomputer will be able to draw upon its high-speed flash memory, its large amounts of high-speed main memory, and its software share memory to crunch the numbers for research in areas such as cardiac disease, climate change, and astrophysics.

"FlashLite will solve a problem that is everywhere these days: Big data, and how to exploit it in critical research," said Abramson.

The system's development was funded by the Australian Research Council in conjunction with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Griffith University, Monash University, Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation, Queensland University of Technology, the University of Queensland, and the University of Technology, Sydney.

To make the most of Flashlite's availability to a broad spectrum of research projects, a portion of its capacity will be available to Australian researchers outside of the institutions involved in its development, via the National Computational Infrastructure's National Computational Merit Allocation Scheme.

In September last year, the University of Queensland announced that it would be installing a AU$275,000 parallel computer cluster on-campus by November, replacing the previous cluster of style links that had been used by its Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology since 2008.

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