High-performance computer moves in

By Ivan Muzychka

Thanks to Digital Equipment Canada, Memorial's Department of Computing and Communications now houses an advanced state-of-the-art, high performance computer. The computer, an AlphaServer 4100, will greatly enhance Memorial's high-performance computing (HPC) capability. It will also add to the existing networking capabilities, and will be used in ongoing research projects. Digital Equipment is lending Memorial the AlphaServer 4100 for one year. In return, Memorial will make the computer available to other institutions that are members of the high performance computing network called HPC Net.

HPC Net is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and is meant to help scientists with HPC computer access. Currently there are only about a dozen participating institutions in the network; member institutions must have significant expertise in HPC.

Many players

The Digital deal came as a result of the efforts of Dr. Kevin Keough, vice-president (research), Drs. Mark Whitmore and John Whitehead of Physics and Physical Oceanography, Dr. Jim Stacey of the Atlantic Canada Organization for Research Networking (ACORN), and Glen Bontje and Darryl Creaser of Digital. Dr. Alan Law, dean of the Faculty of Science, and Wilf Bussey, director of Computing and Communications, were also instrumental in making the arrangements.

Greater ability

"This tool will allow us to explore areas where we were previously bound by our limitations in large-scale computing power," Dr. Keough said. "In addition to advancements in various disciplines, Digital's donation will help Memorial integrate its research efforts with developments taking place on the information technology sector, especially in high-speed networking." According to Dr. Law, the computer will raise the university's computing profile. "This brings Memorial to the forefront in high-performance computing in Canada -- in fact, in North America," Dr. Law, said. "We are going to be an important node in the HPC Net in terms of hardware."

Powerful tool

The new computer has a whopping four gigabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM), about 50 times the amount available on high-end desktop computers. A large amount of Random Access Memory (RAM) is required for certain applications, seismological imaging for example, where huge amounts of data are manipulated.

"One of the features of this computer is that its memory allows for large scale applications," Dr. Whitmore explained. "This is one of the things Digital is looking for; they want to have the computer used in seismology applications, and for modelling, so others can see its potential."

"I am absolutely thrilled," Dr. Whitehead said. "Most of the work I am doing involves simulations of magnetic systems and the calculations we do tend to be computer intensive. The scope of our calculation is limited by how much computing power is available. Up to now we were using a computer in the HPC centre in Calgary which has been switched off and we have been unable to get access to an alternate machine."

Digital will use the computer at Memorial as a way of marketing the machine to other institutions. Since Memorial is the only university to have an asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) networked campus, and has a connection to the National Test Network through ACORN, placing the computer here for demonstration purposes was ideal.

"Our campus network, MUNet, is already operating with ATM speed and the new machine will have an ATM connection, which means faster access to the national network," Mr. Bussey said.