ANU Supercomputer Facility - Annual Report 1997



Internationally Competitive Supercomputer Upgraded

The University's Fujitsu VPP300 which was installed in 1996 is one of the most powerful university-based supercomputers in the world. The VPP300 provides a rare opportunity for researchers to tackle the most computationally demanding problems at an internationally competitive level using a relatively mature computer architecture.

In January 1997 the system was substantially upgraded. Five of the nodes had memory increased to 2 GBytes, bringing the total memory of the overall system to 14 GBytes. The input/output capacity of the system was doubled by the installation of a second I/O node along with additional disk capacity.

External Use Scheme

Since 1988 the University has made ten per cent of its Fujitsu supercomputer systems available to other universities free of charge. In 1997 the Scheme was extended to the Silicon Graphics PowerChallenge system, thereby offering not only a substantial resource to the Australian university research community, but also alternative computer architectures to suit a broader range of research problems. Both systems were oversubscribed and heavily used by external users during the year. Over 130 researchers at 13 other universities were involved in projects under this scheme.

The Australian Cooperative Supercomputer Facility

The University of Queensland joined the Australian Cooperative Supercomputer Facility (ACSF) in 1997. ACSF was initiated in 1991 by the ANU in conjunction with regional computational consortia representing almost all the New South Wales and South Australian universities. The ACSF has been supported by several substantial Australian Research Council infrastructure grants and was successful in obtaining additional RIEF funding from the ARC in 1997.

In early 1997 the CM5 parallel supercomputer at the ANU was relocated to the Adelaide node of ACSF where an 128 node system (16 Gflops peak speed) was built using components from all the ACSF partners.

The consortium members operate four large Silicon Graphics systems located at the ANU, NSW (Advanced Technology Park), the University of Adelaide and the University of Queensland. Late in the year, the ACSF partners were joined by the University of Western Australia in making a proposal to DEETYA for a national Centre of Expertise in High Performance Computing and Communications.

Computational Science and Engineering Education Program

This program built on the highly successful start made in the last two years. 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, DCS and Dr Alistair Rendell, ANUSF, presented undergraduate courses in FEIT. A new third year course was added in 1997. Dr David Singleton gave an undergraduate course in SMS as part of this program. Contributions were also made to computational courses in the Department of Physics and Theoretical Physics.

The HPC Laboratory maintained by the Facility in the CSIT building for this educational program was also used to deliver courses and workshops by RSC, ACSys, DCS, fourth year projects in FEIT and undergraduates in ACAT, as well as being used for the Facility's own training courses. The HPC Laboratory was used by the ACSys PADRE project in 1997 for the largest text retrieval experiment reported in the literature.

Seminars and User Training

The Supercomputer Facility continues to be a joint sponsor with ACSys, CMA/SMS and CSL/RSISE of the weekly Advanced Computation seminar series.

New courses on Efficient Use of the Mass Data Store system and Visualization tools were introduced in 1997. The course on VPP Vectorization and Tuning and Fortran 90 were well attended by local and external users. As with most ANUSF courses, notes can be found on our WWW page via

A newsletter, SuperFAQS was introduced in 1997 to inform users of changes, courses and efficient use of the Facility's systems. The newsletter was published three times in 1997.

Visualization Laboratory and Virtual Environments Project

The Visualization Laboratory, VizLab, was relocated to improved premises on the fourth floor of the Huxley Building. The growing demand for visualization services and training has been temporarily met by the secondment for one year of Stuart Ramsden from ACAT, School of Art.

The Facility also began exploring the utility of Virtual Environment tools (or Virtual Reality) to the work of its users. As well as exploring collaboration in this area with the Virtual Environment program being commenced in ACSys, the Facility collaborated in building a low cost VE system called the Wedge in a joint project with the Plasma Research Laboratory, RSPhysSE. The Wedge was initiated by Dr Rod Boswell and Dr Henry Gardner, DCS/ANUSF with software and technical support from Mr Drew Whitehouse, ANUSF. The basic elements of this system were assembled at the end of the year and it is expected to be operating early in 1998.

Massive Data Storage System Enters Stage 2

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 used for a range of data intensive projects involving experimental and other data. In 1997 the hierarchical storage management software, which gives the user the illusion of almost infinite disk capacity, was replaced by a superior product. This can efficiently handle the several million files on the system as well as the huge amounts of data transferred by the Stage 2 Redwood tape system which were brought into production mid-year. This tape system brought the potential capacity of the system to 300 TBytes and allowed us to remove restrictions previously preventing researchers from greatly expanding their usage. The number of users grew by almost 30 per cent following this upgrade.

A staff member has been assigned to a new half-time post as Massive Data System programmer, the role of which is to assist users at the applications level to design and implement data intensive projects in an efficient manner.

Fujitsu Research Relationship

The research relationship between the University and Fujitsu Limited entered its eleventh year in 1997. Under this agreement, the Supercomputer Facility has been involved in a number of software development and research projects in conjunction with other sections of the University (including the School of Mathematical Sciences, Computer Sciences Laboratory, RSISE, the Department of Computer Science, CRES and the John Curtin School of Medical Science).

As well as participating in the research and technical aspects of these projects, the Supercomputer Facility takes overall responsibility for the management of two of the three major areas of the research relationship with Fujitsu. These are the Chemistry and Molecular Modelling project (including a research project in molecular modelling in conjunction with the Computational Molecular Biology and Drug Design Group, JCSMR) and the Parallel Mathematical Subroutine Library project. Both these projects have links to the `CAP' project in parallel computing centred in DCS, FEIT and CSL, RSISE.

Awards or Honours

Dr Henry Gardner, the program leader of the joint Computational Science and Engineering program with FEIT, was presented the Undergraduate Computational Engineering and Science International award by the Krell Institute and a certificate of merit from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. He accepted this award at the leading international high performance computing SC'97 conference held in San Jose in November.

Other Activities

In February, facility staff participated in a one-day retreat to discuss future plans and strategies. With the cooperation of ACSys, an ATM switch was installed linking the major systems and ACSys.

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