​Australia's NCI gets supercomputing systems from IBM for AI and analytics

Australia's research computing facility has purchased IBM Power servers for high performance computing to propel research via artificial intelligence, deep learning, and advanced analytics.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), Australia's national research computing service, has purchased four IBM Power System servers for high performance computing in a bid to advance its research efforts through artificial intelligence, deep learning, high performance data analytics, and other compute-heavy workloads.

With 35,000 researchers in total on its books, the NCI operates as a formal collaboration of the Australian National University, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), and Geoscience Australia, as well as through partnerships with a number of research-intensive universities that are supported by the Australian Research Council.

Friday's announcement follows a development process NCI undertook with the IBM Australia Development Laboratory and its Linux and Open Technology team.

According to NCI, the development lab provides OpenPower development capability and locally develops IBM's Power System firmware, with the decision to purchase the new servers strongly influenced by its direct access to the local IBM Power development team, NCI said.

"In order to tackle the challenges of today's world -- from cancer to climate change -- organisations need accelerated computing that can drive big data workloads," said Mike Schulze, director for IBM Australia Development Laboratory. "NCI plays a critical role in supporting some of Australia's largest research projects, and this new system and architecture will be key for it to achieve higher levels of performance and greater computing efficiency."

In acquiring the new equipment, NCI has become the first Australian organisation to join the IBM-initiated OpenPower Foundation.

Also on Friday, it was announced by NCI that over 1,200 whole human genome sequences are available to researchers worldwide through an online portal developed by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, funded by New South Wales Health and powered by NCI.

NCI's Raijin supercomputer was instrumental in the computation of the whole human genome sequences, the organisation said.

"This process, including simultaneous alignment of all 1,200 genomes, was completed within 24 hours and used almost 20,000 cores during peak computation periods, or over a third of Raijin's entire computational capacity," NCI said in a statement.

According to NCI, processing a single genome sequence is a data-intensive computational task, ingesting raw sequence data of 60-100Gb and producing annotated output of approximately 200Gb in size. Storing thousands of these sequences becomes an enormous task that requires the significant data storage resources available at NCI. Up to 300Tb of NCI's high-speed parallel file system storage was used at any one time during the genome computation, it said.

NCI director professor Lindsay Botten said the success of the Medical Genome Reference Bank is an indication that Australian advanced computing remains an important "cornerstone of innovation" for the nation's research priorities.

"The scale of this computation illustrates both how large these clinically-relevant datasets are becoming and how important it is to have access to massive computational power to achieve such outcomes in near real-time," he said.

NCI announced last month that Xenon Systems would be supplying a Lenovo NeXtScale system as an extension of Raijin.

The new Lenovo system is expected to help NCI to meet the demand of high-performance computing by providing a 40 percent increase in capacity to its facility. The NCI also expects the Lenovo system will complement the wide range of computational resources available through NCI and will provide a major boost in capability for users with high memory requirements.

The NCI was handed a AU$7 million boost from the federal government in July, which was to be matched dollar-for-dollar by NCI's collaborating partners.

At the time, the NCI said the AU$14 million injection would be used to continue its delivery of supercomputing services to over 4,000 researchers in approximately 80 percent of the country's universities.

The NCI is supported by the Australian government's National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced last year that the government would be providing AU$1.5 billion over 10 years for the NCRIS, committing AU$150 million each year for 2015-16 and 2016-17, with funding of AU$153.5 million to be provided in 2017-18 and on an ongoing basis, indexed for inflation.

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