Overview of the Supercomputer Facility

The Australian National University Supercomputer Facility was established at the time of the University's purchase of a Fujitsu VP-100 Vector Processor late in 1987. The VP-100 was upgraded to a Fujitsu VP2200 in July 1991.

While the Supercomputer Facility was created with the principal objective of supporting work centred on the VP-100 vector processor, its mission now encompasses support and involvement in advanced computational science in general, including visualization, massive data storage and parallel computing.

In 1994, the Supercomputer Facility continued to function as a component of the University's Computing Services. The Facility also has academic links through its Academic Director (currently unfilled) and its quasi-academic role. The role of the Academic Director is to foster the use of the VP in achieving a high level of research output in existing and new areas of computationally based research, as well as to give overall academic direction to the Facility. Related day-to-day activities and management of the Facility are the responsibility of the Head, Academic Services. The Director, Computing Services carries overall responsibility for the performance of the Computer Services Centre in undertaking the `facilities management' role for the Supercomputer Facility.

These arrangements will be altered in 1995 under the new Information Technology services structure being introduced into the University.

Parallel supercomputers are now becoming the dominant supercomputer platforms that serve the supercomputer needs of computational scientists in conjunction with desktop workstations. There has been a convergence of technologies, with many parallel machines (and workstations) incorporating vector processing or pipelining units into each processor. At the same time, parallel machines are maturing sufficiently so that mainstream computational scientists can begin to use them. The University recognized the need to become involved with parallel processing at an early stage and through the Parallel Computing Research Facility of the Centre for Information Science Research acquired a massively parallel Connection Machine CM-2 with 16K processors from Thinking Machines Corporation. The University also acquired a 128 processor AP1000 from Fujitsu as part of a research and development agreement. In late 1992, a 32 processor Connection Machine CM-5 was installed.

The Supercomputer Facility has long recognized the need to develop expertise in parallel computing while focussing on systems of practical use to computational scientists and engineers. Since 1991 the Facility has taken an active role in supporting users through involvement in courses and assisting researchers in establishing applications on the Connection Machines. The Facility has also been involved in projects on the Fujitsu AP1000. and the VPP500.

The formal objectives of the Supercomputer Facility listed below. These are currently being re-formulated in view of the changes in both technology and University structures since the Facility's creation.

1. to provide an easily useable and efficient supercomputer resource for research workers requiring large-scale computational facilities, particularly those whose tasks have a vector character;

2. to function as a centre of expertise and information on the use and operation of supercomputers (in particular), and on the algorithms and techniques used to apply them in various disciplines;

3. to provide collaboration with and consultancy assistance to research workers in developing applications, algorithms and codes to take fullest advantage of the supercomputer;

4. to foster the use of the supercomputer in new research areas, and to provide the expertise required to allow new users to formulate their tasks in a manner suitable for vector processing;

5. to provide a meeting ground for users and potential users, where they can, through symposia, seminars, and direct interaction, share their experiences and develop techniques that are of use in more than one application area;

6. to administer the allocation of processing time on the supercomputer;

7. to monitor the academic output of the supercomputer, and to report on and publicize its achievements;

8. to advise on developments and upgrades; and

9. to work with the Computer Services Centre to provide an efficient service.


The four members of the Academic Consultants Group play an important role with respect to most of the aims and objectives of the Supercomputer Facility listed above, in particular items 2, 3 and 4.

The primary responsibility of the Academic Consultants is in the applications area and in establishing an appropriate environment for advanced computing-based research. Contacts with researchers on campus may take a variety of forms, from short consultancies addressing particular questions from users, to extended collaborations in which an Academic Consultant may spend several months as part of a research team implementing an application on the supercomputer. In addition, there is a Visualization Programmer, whose role is to support researchers in the increasingly important area of interpreting the output of large-scale computations.

The Supercomputer Facility has a Programmer who provides general programming support to the Facility and a Systems Programmer responsible for the operating system on the VP2200 and associated workstations.

The Supercomputer Facility also has major collaborative projects in place with Fujitsu Limited, Japan. One of these projects, based largely in computational chemistry and environmental modelling, employs three scientific programmers within the Facility and a post-doctoral fellow in CRES. The Facility also manages and participates in a joint research and development project with Fujitsu in which mathematical algorithms and software for parallel-vector processors are being developed. This project employs three research fellows located in the School of Mathematical Sciences and the Computer Science Laboratory, RSISE. These projects are described in more detail elsewhere in this report.