Australia switches on its fastest supercomputer yet

Australia is now home to the largest supercomputing facility in the southern hemisphere, and is giving a few other countries a run for their money now that the Raijin supercomputer has been switched on.

The largest x86 high-performance computing cluster in the southern hemisphere has been switched on at the National Computational Infrastructure facility.

The supercomputer, which the Australian National University (ANU) asked Fujitsu to build, has a peak performance of 1.2 petaflops (1.2 x 1015 floating point operations per second). It has been named Raijin, after the Shinto God of thunder, lightning, and storms, and is a significant upgrade to the facility's existing Sun/Oracle peak system, Vayu, named after the Hindu deity believed to be the lord of wind.

In this case, in terms of peak performance, thunder and lightning outpaces wind by about 8.6 times. Vayu will be decommissioned at the end of the year, however Raijin's operating system environment has been built to be similar so as to help migrate older user code and applications to the newer, faster system.

The Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia are expected to use Raijin to run complex weather and climate modelling; and research in computational chemistry, particle physics, astronomy, material science, microbiology, nanotechnology, and photonics.

Compared to the rest of the world's supercomputers, the Top500 ranks the high-performance cluster in 27th place, with a Linpack max performance figure of about 978.6 teraflops. In contrast, The number one position still remains with the Chinese National University of Defense Technology, which has a max performance figure of about 33.9 petaflops. Nevertheless, Raijin represents the fastest supercomputer in the southern hemisphere, and outpaces the best efforts from many other countries such as Spain, Russia, India, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Canada, and South Korea.

Raijin's design had been in the works since 2009, when the Australian government set aside AU$50 million in the Budget for a national supercomputer under its Super Science initiative. At the time, NCI put in a project plan and had hoped to have the supercomputer operational in early 2012. However, the complete installation of all the hardware was not complete until late 2012, and it has not been until last June that the super computer actually entered production use.

In addition to ANU's investment, other partners include CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, Geoscience Australia, and a number of research-intensive universities supported by the Australian Research Council.