​Swinburne reaches for the sky with AU$4m astronomical supercomputer

The Dell EMC-powered supercomputer will be used by the university to power a new age of gravitational wave astrophysics, building on Albert Einstein's theory 100 years on.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Dell EMC has announced it will be providing Melbourne's Swinburne University of Technology with a high performance supercomputer to power research into astrophysics and gravitational waves, with the university seeking to further prove the science behind Einstein's theory of general relativity.

OzSTAR, which loosely stands for the Australian supercomputer for theoretical astronomical research, will be built by Dell EMC at a cost of AU$4 million and will be used by the Swinburne-led Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav).

"While Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, it took 100 years for technology to advance to the point they could be detected," said OzGrav director, professor Matthew Bailes.

"Discoveries this significant don't occur every day and we have now opened a new window on the universe. This machine will be a tremendous boost to our brand new field of science."

Speaking with ZDNet, Andrew Underwood, HPC lead at Dell EMC Australia and New Zealand, explained the supercomputer will be used to process incredibly large volumes of data coming via giant telescopes, including the $1 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA), slated the largest and most capable radio telescope ever constructed.

Touted as the world's largest science project, involving 20 countries and covering over 1 million square metres of data collection area, the SKA has its central cores of operation in South Africa and Western Australia, with its central computer alone boasting the processing power of about 100 million PCs.

Swinburne will be connecting OzSTAR to research collaborators in the country's west, with the university also involved in a number of projects to help deliver the SKA, including designing the telescope's antennas, in addition to data processing.

OzSTAR is the fifth supercomputer since Swinburne received its first back in 2001. Only the first installed at the university was delivered by Dell. Underwood said reading about the supercomputer 16 years ago inspired him to join the tech giant in its supercomputing ventures.

OzGrav, which received AU$31.1 million in September to carry out its research, is also going to be focused on education in varying levels of schooling, hoping to bring youngsters into the world of science.

"Analysing the ripples in space-time to understand the birth of the universe doesn't get much cooler than that," Underwood added.

The supercomputer will comprise new Dell EMC 14th generation PowerEdge Servers, containing Intel Skylake Xeon processors and Nvidia Tesla P100s; Dell EMC H-Series networking fabric powered by Intel's Omni-Path Architecture; and Dell EMC HPC Storage with Intel Lustre filesystem built on the PowerEdge and PowerVault Modular Disk reference architecture.

In total, OzSTAR will boast 4,140 Intel Xeon Scalable Processor cores at 2.3Ghz across 107 standard compute and 8 data crunching nodes; 230 Nvidia Tesla P100 12GB GPUs -- one per CPU socket; 272 Intel Xeon Phi cores at 1.6Ghz across 4 C6320p KNL nodes; and a high-speed, low latency network fabric to allow for moving data at over 100Gbps.

Underwood said each compute node is a building block to provide the processing, data analysis, and visualisation of the data. He said typical supercomputing environments and centres require multiple supercomputers to achieve the compute, data analysis, and visualisation power that OzSTAR holds.

"Data movement with astronomy is one of the most expensive things; when you're trying to take petabytes of data and move it across the country, there's a cost always involved with that, not just the financial cost, but the processing time," Underwood explained.

The supercomputer is expected to deliver more than 1 petaflops of performance capability -- which equates to 31 million years of calculations in a single second.

It will also have 5 petabytes of usable storage, and a single 60GB file will be able to be moved from one place to another in one second.

OzSTAR is expected to take four weeks to install and will be operational before the end of September.

Once up and running, up to 35 percent of the supercomputer's time will be spent on OzGrav research related to gravitational waves. The supercomputer will also continue to incorporate the GPU Supercomputer for Theoretical Astrophysics Research (gSTAR), operating as a national facility for the astronomy community funded under the federal National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme in cooperation with Astronomy Australia Limited.

In addition, the supercomputer will underpin the research goals of Swinburne staff and students across multiple disciplines, including molecular dynamics, nanophotonics, advanced chemistry, and atomic optics.

Last year, EMC built a private OpenStack research cloud for Swinburne University that Underwood said will be directly connected via Ethernet into the OzSTAR supercomputer to make sure the data movement is optimised.

The cloud forms part of the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources project (NeCTAR).

The CSIRO welcomed a new supercomputer to its Canberra campus last month, with Dell EMC providing the new Bracewell system that is expected to expand CSIRO's capability in deep learning, further its artificial intelligence progress, and allow for the exploration of virtual screening for therapeutic treatments, traffic and logistics optimisation, modelling of new material structures and compositions, machine learning for image recognition, and pattern analysis.

Dell EMC was also awarded a AU$1.2 million contract for the expansion of CSIRO's Pearcey supercomputing system earlier in July.

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