ANU plans $50m supercomputer spend

National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), part of the Australian National University (ANU), is working towards a contract with the Federal Government that will see $50 million spent on a new datacentre and supercomputer by 2012.

National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), part of the Australian National University (ANU), is working towards a contract with the Federal Government that will see $50 million spent on a new datacentre and supercomputer by 2012.

The Federal Government announced $50 million funding in its budget in May for new supercomputing facilities following a report released at the end of 2008 on Australian research infrastructure, which argued strongly for the upgrading of computing infrastructure. The computer's main purpose is to enable climate change modelling and research, but it will be available for various projects in universities as well as institutions such as the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO.

Professor Lindsay Botten, director of NCI, is currently working on a project plan to put to the government which, if approved, will see the proposed computer bought and housed in a new Canberra datacentre by late 2011 or early 2012. The plan would likely go to the government within the next month, according to Botten.

Botten thought about $30 million of the $50 million funds would go to the hardware, while $20 million would be used to build the necessary datacentre facilities.

None of the investment would go towards on-costs for the computer and datacentre, which would have to be paid by research institutions using the facility. Botten said he was currently in negotiations with those institutions and was positive that the annual multimillion-dollar non-infrastructure costs, such as electricity and staff, would be provided for.

The university will need to go to tender for the datacentre facilities and computer hardware. Botten said that it had hired some datacentre consultants and had taken a peek at Sun datacentres in the US to make sure it was informed about the purchase.

The funding for the computer came under the budget's super science initiatives which also saw $80 million go towards high performance computing facilities in Perth for the square kilometre array radio telescope, $97 million go towards a national data storage network and $37 million to upgrade the communications network between research sites.

It has not been long since the ANU negotiated to buy a separate supercomputer — it paid just under $15 million on a $30 million Sun supercomputer. The Bureau of Meteorology paid the other half. The computer was being set up in Canberra and Melbourne. Of the part being set up in the university, the first phase — involving one eighth of the final computer — had already been completed. This month would see the remaining seven eighths installed.

This required some extensive work on the computer's housing. "The computer room had to be significantly remodelled," Botten said.

The computer will be completely up and running by the end of the year, Botten said. When finished it will be capable of 140 teraflops at peak performance. Its sustained performance would be up by a factor of 12 on what the university previously had.