Highlights of 1996


Internationally Competitive Supercomputer Installed

The first stage of a Fujitsu VPP300 supercomputer was installed in May. The ANU's VPP300 is one of the most powerful university-based supercomputers in the world. Its installation re-establishes the University's international position at the leading-edge in supercomputing infrastructure.

The VPP300 provides a rare opportunity for researchers to tackle a new generation of the most computationally demanding problems using a relatively mature computer architecture.

The External Use scheme, under which access to ten per cent of the system is made available to other universities free of charge, has been continued on the VPP300, thereby offering a substantial resource to the Australian university research community.

In June, the system was upgraded to have 13 processors with a peak speed of over 28 Gflops and 6.5 Gbytes of memory. In early 1997 it is expected to be upgraded to have 14 Gbytes of memory and additional input/output capacity. Its predecessor, the VP2200, which had been in use since 1991, was decommissioned in July.


The Australian Cooperative Supercomputer Facility Inaugurates Service

The Australian Cooperative Supercomputer Facility is a consortium of the ANU and regional computational groups representing most of the New South Wales and South Australian universities. The ACSF operates with the support of several substantial Australian Research Council infrastructure grants. In January the ACSF began operation of its three interim 8 processor Silicon Graphics PowerChallenge systems. The installations are at the ANU, NSW (Advanced Technology Park) and the University of Adelaide. In July, the computers were upgraded to 20 processors, each computer then being the most powerful in Australia bar the Fujitsu VPP300. The systems were heavily used during 1996 and plans were explored by the ACSF partners to cooperate in education, research and software acquisitions. Towards the end of the year plans were well advanced to relocate the CM5 supercomputer in Adelaide with the aim of building a large consolidated ACSF CM5 system.


Computational Science and Engineering Education Program Underway

The Computational Science and Engineering education program made a highly successful start in 1996. The program is a joint initiative of the ANUSF and the Department of Computer Science, FEIT (with the active involvement of the Department of Engineering) and aims to deliver undergraduate, postgraduate and industrial courses focussed on applying the tools of high performance computing to problems in science and engineering. Dr Henry Gardner was appointed in DCS and together with Dr Alistair Rendell, ANUSF, presented a fourth year course amongst many other activities. The demand for student places was far higher than could be accommodated and the course was highly praised by students. Further details can be found elsewhere in this Report.


Visualization Laboratory Upgraded

The Visualization Laboratory augmented its program of support for users wishing to make videotapes of animations of their data. A new video-taping system was installed, which can be readily used by individual researchers with very little training. The visualization program has increasingly assisted researchers in the interpretation of large amounts of data in fields other than traditional supercomputing-related research programs. There is a growing demand for additional staff to augment the single visualization programmer currently employed, particularly so that projects requiring a substantial amount of development work for users can be progressed, while at the same time conducting additional training to promote visualisation techniques into a wider range of fields.


Massive Data Storage System to Move Ahead

The massive data storage system installed in 1994 was the first such system acquired by an Australian university. While primarily acquired to manage and store the output of the supercomputer systems, it is also being used for a range of data intensive projects involving experimental and other data.

During 1996 the expansion of the amount of data stored and the number of files and users was limited to ten to twenty percent as a result of the unfortunate delays in the delivery of upgraded file migration software. This delay also prevented the acceptance of the new tape system which would have increased the capacity of the system by two orders of magnitude and alleviated the load problems created by the heavy demand. After a detailed examination of alternative software products in 1996, we are now confident that with the support of StorageTek a satisfactory product can be installed and the service move forward to the planned second stage early in 1997.


Fujitsu Research Relationship - New Project

The research relationship between the University and Fujitsu Limited entered its eighth year. Under this agreement, the Supercomputer Facility has been involved in a number of software development projects in conjunction with other sections of the University (including the School of Mathematical Sciences, Computer Sciences Laboratory, RSISE, the Department of Computer Science, FEIT, CRES and JCSMR. The projects now concentrate on computational chemistry software development and optimization and the development of mathematical libraries for the VPP300/700 series.

In a major development, a new research project in molecular modelling in conjunction with the Computational Molecular Biology and Drug Design Group, JCSMR, was commenced in 1996. A post-doctoral fellow is expected to take up a post in JCSMR early in 1997 to assist with this project.

As well as participating in these projects, the Supercomputer Facility takes overall responsibility for the management of two of the three major areas of the research relationship with Fujitsu - Area 3 (Chemistry and Molecular Modelling) and Area 4 (Mathematical Subroutine Library). Both these projects have links to the Area 2 project in parallel computing centred in Department of Computer Science, FEIT and Computer Sciences Laboratory, RSISE.


Other Activities

The Supercomputer Facility assisted RSPhysSE in running the 1996 Summer School in Computational Physics and was involved in a number of educational initiatives and workshops, some in conjunction with Centre for Mathematics and its Applications, SMS, Computer Sciences Laboratory, RSISE and Department of Computer Science, FEIT.

Dr Gingold was invited to be a member of an international panel of 15 international experts on the future of HPC. The resulting perspectives appeared in a report entitled HPC As It Undergoes a Metamorphosis.