Overview of the Supercomputer Facility

The Australian National University Supercomputer Facility (ANUSF) was established at the time of the University's purchase of a Fujitsu VP-50/100 Vector Processor late in 1987. The fundamental goals of the Facility are to provide support to researchers and teachers in the application of high performance computing systems through the provision of infrastructure and expertise, including participation in the research in a collaborative manner and in the promotion of computational science to students.

The ANUSF supports research and teaching staff and postgraduate students in the Insitute of Advanced Studies and The Faculties as well as researchers at other Australian universities using the University's major high performance computing systems. Facilities are also made available for undergraduate courses.

While the Supercomputer Facility was created with the principal objective of supporting work centred on the VP-100 vector processor and its successors, its mission now encompasses support and involvement in advanced computational science in general, including visualization, massive data storage and parallel computing. The Facility has supported users at the applications level on the Connection Machine parallel computers and has also been involved in projects on the Fujitsu AP1000 parallel computer in the Computer Science Department.


The formal objectives of the Facility approved by the Information Technology Strategy Committee are:

1. To provide world-class infrastructure for researchers who require access to HPC systems and ensure that the university remains at the leading edge in its HPC infrastructure and the productive use of HPC systems in support of internationally competitive research programs.

2. To foster the use of HPC systems in new disciplines as well as in areas traditionally dependent on numerically-intensive computation.

3. To promote and implement mechanisms to increase career opportunities for computational scientists, including ANUSF staff, and promote computational science as an applications-driven area of academic and computing expertise with a substantial cross-disciplinary nature.

4. To develop appropriate collaborations with other Australian universities in HPC aimed at sharing the expense and benefits of HPC systems consistent with the University's national role.

5. To develop, in conjunction with relevant groups, departments and schools, HPC education courses for undergraduates, postgraduates, industry and the community.

6. To provide a range of other support services and training programs to the High Performance Computing community, eg. visualization, massive data storage & high-speed networks.

The Facility's staff include Academic Consultants, support, systems and visualization programmers and an administrator, plus a number of staff engaged on externally funded projects.

The primary responsibility of the Academic Consultants of ANUSF 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 and experiments.

In addition there is a Programmer who provides general programming support to the Facility as well as taking on many of the roles of the Academic Consultants and two Systems Programmers responsible for the operating system supercomputer services, the mass storage system, visualization systems 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, employs three scientific programmers within the Facility and in recent years, 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.

In addition a number of temporary researchers and programming assistants have been funded by the Facility to support computational programs in RSPhysSE and CRES.

Management Arrangements

The management arrangements for the Supercomputer Facility, which began its ninth year of operation this year, were substantially modifed under the new Information Technology Services arrangements introduced in 1995. The Supercomputer Facility is now one of the independant arms of Information Technology Services, under the Director of Information Technology Services and a new committee, the High Performance Computing Advisory Committee (HPCAC) which replaces the previously informal management committee. The Head, Academic Services ANUSF takes on much of the role of the former the Academic Director in conjunction with the HPCAC.

High Performance Computing Advisory Committee

The HPCAC is established by the Vice-Chancellor. The Committee advises the Vice-Chancellor, via the Information Technology Strategy Committee, on all aspects of high performance computing in the research and advanced teaching work of the University and on the development and promotion of computational science disciplines.

As well as advising on the HPC service provision, the Committee also has responsibility for developing and recommending on academic initiatives in the computational sciences which fall outside of existing academic structures, particularly those of an interdisciplinary character involving the Academic Consultants in the Supercomputer Facility and appropriate groups on campus.

The Committee's terms of reference includes the responsibility to:

1. develop, review and advise on the strategic goals, principles, policies and plans for the development, acquisition, implementation and ongoing support of high performance computing services on campus, particularly those which are centrally provided;

2. evaluate proposals and plans, and advise on the prioritisation of the needs of staff, students and management involved in research, particularly with respect to the development and implementation of University-wide initiatives and the provision of high performance computing;

3. make recommendations to the IT Strategy Committee on the resources required for the effective operation of high performance computing;

4. monitor the service provision for high performance computing;

5. provide policy and management guidance to the Supercomputer Time Allocation Committee;

6. provide an annual report to the Vice-Chancellor on progress and achievements in the area of high performance computing in the University;

7. facilitate initiatives in the computational sciences, particularly those which are interdisciplinary or involve staff working in groups such as the ANUSF;

8. oversight and promote links and joint activities in computational sciences with industry and other Australian universities;

9. consider the positioning of the University's high performance computing so that the University may attract a high degree of interest nationally and internationally as a leading research institution.

In 1995 the membership of the HPCAC was:

Chair, appointed by the Vice-Chancellor

Professor B Kennett, ProVC

Members nominated by the Board of the Institute of Advanced Studies

Professor R Dewar, RSPhysSE

Professor W Levick, JCSMR,

(Chair of Supercomputer Time Allocation Committee)

Members nominated by the Board of The Faculties

Dr M Cardew-Hall, FEIT

Dr T O'Neill, SMS

Student representative (PARSA)

Mr D Rasmussen, RSC

Representative of IT Services

Dr R Erskine, Director, Information Technology Services

Executive Officer to the Committee

Dr R Gingold Head, Academic Services,

ANU Supercomputing Facility (Ex Officio)