Highlights of 1994 and Future Directions

Information Technology Directions Statement

In 1994, the Information Technology Directions Statement process undertaken by the University was almost complete. As part of the implementation of the IT Directions Statement, the University established a High Performance Computing Advisory Committee to commence in January 1995. Its role includes the development and monitoring of policies for high performance computing, including facilitating initiatives in the computational sciences.

The working party in Advanced High-Speed Computation Services established as part of the IT Directions Statement process had noted how well placed the ANU was to take a leading role in high performance computing and computational science and made a number of draft recommendations for future directions. These included recommendations that the University consider funding a pool of academic posts in computational science and suggestions for enhancing organizational arrangements and changes in the career structure for Supercomputer Facility staff. Increased educational efforts at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels were also suggested. It is hoped that the new High Performance Computing Advisory Committee can progress these draft recommendations in 1995.

Fujitsu VP2200

At the year's end, the VP2200 supercomputer was approaching the final year of its original five-year lifetime. With the rapid advances in technology, the VP2200 has been overdue for replacement for well over a year. Despite the pressing need for an upgrade, the University has delayed action because there has been no clear affordable upgrade path to date. This is a major issue for the new High Performance Computing Advisory Committee in 1995.

In recent times the usage pattern of the vector processor has changed substantially. First, it is increasingly used in new research fields. In 1989 only 3 percent of grants on the VP were in research in the category including biosciences and climatology. This year the figure was 17 percent. While use by some areas of chemistry has declined (quantum and molecular dynamics and statistical physics grants fell from 51 percent in 1989 to 30 percent this year), molecular modelling grants have risen from a zero base to around 10 percent of the allocations. Second, the VP is increasingly used by relatively small users requiring rapid turnaround for short jobs.

Grand Challenges

In 1994, Drs Bossomaier, Kahn and Singleton completed a document containing written contributions from attendees at the half-day "Grand Challenge" workshop held in 1993. At the workshop, computational scientists spoke briefly on what new science could be done in their disciplines if they had access to a supercomputer capable of teraflop speeds (1 million million operations per second, or about 5,000 times the power of the fastest desktop workstations). The workshop was highly successful and attended by between 80 to 100 people, including a number of interstate visitors.

Massive Data Storage System

The University Computing Committee funded a proposal by the Supercomputer Facility in conjunction with CISR and the CSC to acquire a massive data storage system which was installed at the very end of 1993. The robotic tape system, which began operations early in 1994, is the first such system acquired by an Australian university.

High performance computing systems are composed of four basic elements - computational systems, visualization or interpretative systems, networks and systems for handling massive amounts of data. Following the installation of the first vector system in an Australian university in 1987, the Supercomputer Facility took an early initiative to establish the first visualization laboratory in Australia. In late 1993, the next major step was taken in providing an integrated HPC environment through the acquisition of a massive data storage system from StorageTek and Sun Microsystems.

While primarily acquired to manage and store the output of the supercomputer systems, the massive storage system will also be used for a range of data intensive projects, such as managing satellite and experimental data including the MACHO project at MSSO. With upgrades expected in 1995, the system will have a capacity of at least 300 Terabytes (300 million million bytes) using the latest tape technology. During the year the system was heavily used, and this combined with delays in software deliveries, put substantial strain on the interim system. This was ameliorated with the help of Storagetek.

As part of the University's involvement in the Australian Cooperative Supercomputer Facility consortium (see below), researchers at the Sydney Regional Visualization Laboratory began using the massive storage system remotely in mid-year.

A formal public opening of the massive storage system was made on 8 August by the Minister for Trade and Senator for the ACT, Hon. Bob McMullan. Through an audio-video satellite link, the President and CEO of Storagetek, Ryal Poppa joined the Vice Chancellor, Professor Deane Terrell and the Managing Director of StorageTek Australia, Jeff Hodgins at the opening ceremony. It was also announced that the University and StorageTek intended collaborating on research and development projects.

Connection Machine and the Visualization Laboratory

The Supercomputer Facility continued to provide applications and algorithmic support to users of the Connection Machine, CM5. Systems support for the CM5 is provided by the Parallel Computing Research Facility (PCRF). Since 1993, the PCRF has agreed to place fifty per cent of the time on the CM5 for `production' purposes under the allocation processes of the Supercomputer Time Allocation Committee (STAC) that has allocated time on the VP machines since 1987. The user base of the CM-5 is very similar to that of the VP2200. Researchers using the CM-5 through the STAC process consumed almost all of the CM-5 resources used during the year.

The Visualization Laboratory acquired a new high-end `Reality Engine' from Silicon Graphics and continued its program of support for users wishing to interpret their data and make videotapes.

Quality Assurance Program

The Supercomputer Facility was successful in two joint Quality Assurance proposals in 1994. Support was given to CRES and ANUSF to appoint a programmer to enhance the ease of use of the climate modelling tools which had been established on the Fujitsu VP2200 and the massive data storage system, as well as to assist in the use of these tools in undergraduate teaching. Following some delays in finding a suitable person, an appointment is expected to be made in early 1995.

A joint proposal with the Department of Computer Science to develop and deliver courses in computational science and engineering was partly funded. It is planned that this project will proceed in 1995 with support of additional funds from other sources. Courses would be initially at undergraduate level, but postgraduate and industrial courses are also envisioned.

The Facility also supported a successful special Quality Assurance bid by the ANU's Global Change Confederation which links groups interested in global change research. The Facility is a founding member of the Confederation.

Fujitsu Research Relationship

In 1994, the research relationship between the University and Fujitsu Limited entered its sixth year. Under this agreement, the Supercomputer Facility is involved in a number of software development projects in conjunction with other sections of the University (in particular the Program in Advanced Computation, the School of Mathematical Sciences, Computer Sciences Laboratory, RSISE, the Department of Computer Science and the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies). The software development projects now include computational chemistry, environmental science and the development of mathematical libraries for a new generation of supercomputers. As well as participating in these projects, the Supercomputer Facility takes overall responsibility for the management of the Area 3 (Chemistry and Environment) and Area 4 (Mathematical Subroutine Library) aspects of the Fujitsu research relationship. Details are given under 'Collaboration with Industry'.

Fluid Thinking Yacht Design

Through an agreement with Sun Microsystems initiated by the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, the ANU supplied substantial high performance computing support to Fluid Thinking, an engineering company using advanced computational techniques to design the yachts for the One Australia and Australian Challenge syndicates for the Americas Cup in 1995. A dedicated network link to San Diego was installed so that design work could continue during the competition which begins in the USA in early 1995. This project is thought to be the largest such industrial project undertaken in Australia.

A public announcement of this important industrial link was made at the challenge team's headquarters in Southport, QLD on 3 September. The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Deane Terrell, Professor Stanton, Dean, FEIT, and The Honourable Peter Cook, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, joined the crew of the One-Australia yacht in a practice session.

Research Data Network Cooperative Research Centre

The ANUSF was responsible for the coordination with the University of Adelaide of one of the four successful RDN CRC research proposals - Distributed High Performance Computing. RDN CRC projects are managed by local CRC's, in this case the Advanced Computational Systems CRC, and will use Telecom's Experimental Broadband Network. The project aims to investigate remote access to mass stores and linking of remote high performance systems. It is expected to be underway in 1995.

The Australian Cooperative Supercomputer Facility

The Australian Cooperative Supercomputer Facility (ACSF), which was initiated by the ANU in conjunction with regional computational consortias representing all the Sydney and Adelaide universities, DSTO, CSIRO and Monash University, submitted a further proposal to the Australian Research Council in 1994. ACSF's program is to establish a shared internationally competitive supercomputer facility while at the same time balancing regional systems. The bringing together of institutions is essential in sharing the costs of such expensive facilities. Equipment is expected to be installed in 1995. Under the ACSF umbrella, researchers at the Sydney Regional Visualization Laboratory began using the mass storage system at the University remotely during the year and support staff from Sydney visited the Facility.

Major National Research Facilities Proposal

Towards the end of the year the University submitted an initial proposal to the MNRF program for a National Centre for the Applications of High Performance Computing. The proposal aims to provide a `peak' facility for computational scientists and engineers while integrating with regional and local high performance computing facilities. It is expected that a combined proposal will be developed in early 1995 in conjunction with Victorian and Queensland groups who also submitted initial proposals in this area.

In related activity, support was given by the Facility's visualization programmer, Mr Drew Whitehouse to a presentation on High Performance Computing and Communications for International Competitiveness given to the Prime Minister's Science and Engineering Council in December. In addition, Dr Gingold attended a meeting called by the Department of Employment, Education and Training to discuss national policy in high performance computing in October.


Drs Edberg and Kahn completed a video tape entitled High Performance Computing Applications at the University. The work of a number of ANU researchers using the supercomputer systems is illustrated by animations of their simulations. Copies of the videotape are available upon request.

Towards the end of the year, Mr Whitehouse undertook a major re-orientation of the Facility's World Wide Web service. The service now provides an excellent entry point to Australian and overseas high performance computing information as well as providing local documentation and information.

A number of supercomputer users won awards in 1994, including Professor Leo Radom, RSC who became the first Australian to win the Schrödinger Medal awarded by the World Association of Theoretical Organic Chemists. Professor Kurt Lambeck was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Professors Denis Evans and Brian Kennett were elected as Fellows of the Australian Academy of Sciences.