Square Kilometre Array supercomputer design completed

Design work on the 'brain of the SKA', one of two supercomputers, has been completed.

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An artist's impression of the future Square Kilometre Array in Australia

Image: SKA Organisation

The Square Kilometre Array's (SKA) Science Data Processor (SDP) consortium has announced concluding its engineering design work -- a five year process to design one of two supercomputers that will be used for the internal project.

The international consortium was led by the University of Cambridge in the UK and involved nearly 40 institutions in 11 countries, including the CSIRO, the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre, and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Australia.

The role of the consortium was to design the computing hardware platforms, software, and algorithms needed to process science data from the Central Signal Processor (CSP) into "science data products".

SDP is the second stage of processing for the masses of digitised astronomical signals collected by the telescope's receivers. SDP will be composed of two supercomputers, one located in Cape Town, South Africa, to process data from SKA-mid and one in Perth, Western Australia, to process data from SKA-low.

The consortium estimates the SDP's total compute power will be around 250 PFlops. It has an estimated compute power that is 25% faster than IBM's Summit, which is the world's fastest supercomputer.

According to Maurizio Miccolis, SDP's project manager for the SKA Organisation, up to 600PB of data will be distributed around the world every year from SDP, which he said was enough to fill more than a million average laptops.

The organisation said the design includes the ability to determine in real-time what data is worth keeping; the ability to detect and remove man-made radio frequency interference, for example from satellites and other sources; and have it open for use in other fields.

The SKA is slated to be the largest and most capable radio telescope ever constructed, covering over 1 million square metres of collecting area. The SKA is an international project that will consist of thousands of antennas spread across the world, with central cores of operation in South Africa and Western Australia.

Designs for local infrastructure were finalised in February and construction of the SKA is expected to begin in 2020,   

The team, comprised of Australian engineers and scientists, designed everything from supercomputing facilities, buildings, site monitoring, and roads, to the power and data fibre distribution that will be needed to host the instrument at CSIRO's Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in remote Western Australia.

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