​Commonwealth to invest AU$7m in the NCI for supercomputing research

The federal government has announced a AU$7 million boost for Australia's national research computing service to accelerate results and further its research in supercomputing.

The National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), Australia's national research computing service, has been handed a AU$7 million boost from the federal government, which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by NCI's collaborating partners.

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

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 which are supported by the Australian Research Council.

The NCI is supported by the Australian government's National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), with Wednesday's AU$7 million investment forming part of the AU$16 million Agility Fund currently made available to the strategy.

According to the NCI, the AU$14 million injection will see the expansion of NCI's supercomputer capability and its high-performance filesystem that is tightly coupled with what it called Australia's most highly-integrated research computing environment, comprising of its highest performance filesystems, a private cloud, and the supercomputer known as Raijin.

Highlighting the power Raijin holds, NCI Associate Director Allan Williams said the HPC system has a peak performance of 1.2 petaflops, completing 1,200 trillion calculations per second, and delivering more than 500 million compute hours per year, adding that the expansion provided by the co-investment will see an extra 150 million compute hours become available.

"Researcher demand is currently outstripping NCI's current HPC system, which was installed in 2012. This expansion is a most welcome boost as demand for high-performance computing is increasing in every area of research and in every research organisation," Williams said.

"Researchers will not only see a 30 percent boost in supercomputer throughput, but will have access to cutting-edge technology, and will benefit from a 10 percent increase in overall storage capability, growing by 3 petabytes with the replacement of the earliest Lustre filesystem, which was the fastest in the Southern Hemisphere at the time it was commissioned."

Additionally, Williams said the new storage capacity will be underpinned by NCI's existing high-speed InfiniBand interconnect, which links high-performance computing and storage systems together at speeds of 50-120 gigabytes per second.

"At 50 gigabytes per second, you could write a DVD in one tenth of a second", he added.

The Australian government announced it would be providing AU$1.5 billion over 10 years for the NCRIS in December last year, 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.

The funding forms part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled at the same time.

"A strong research system, which includes cutting edge research infrastructure, is the engine room for the nation's innovation system," the government said previously.

When it comes to supercomputing, both the BOM and CSIRO are developing next-generation weather and climate models and an enhanced seasonal prediction capability for agriculture, with the BOM signing a AU$77 million supercomputing contract with American manufacturer Cray in July last year.