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Canada's most powerful IBM supercomputer to analyse climate-change data at University of Toronto news
16 August 2008

The University of Toronto's SciNet Consortium and IBM plan to work together to build Canada's most powerful and energy-efficient supercomputer that will process up to 360 trillion calculations per second, store 60 times more data than the Library of Congress Web archive, and be housed in an ultra energy-efficient data centre.

The system will be among the world's 20 fastest supercomputers and the largest outside the United States and used for, among other applications, analysing high-resolution global models to predict future risks, such as the accelerating decrease in Artic sea ice. 

The University of Toronto's SciNet Consortium includes the University of Toronto and associated research hospitals. The new computer will be used by SciNet to help it enhance its competitive position in globally important research projects.

These include ground-breaking research in aerospace, astrophysics, bioinformatics, chemical physics, climate change prediction, medical imaging and the global Atlas project, which is investigating the forces that govern the universe. 

Expected to be among the top 20 fastest supercomputers in the world, the machine will be 30 times faster than the peak performance of Canada's current largest research system. It also represents the second largest system ever built on a university campus, and the largest supercomputer outside the United States.

''The University of Toronto has partnered with IBM to become one of the world's premier computational research institutions a collaboration that will attract researchers from around the world,'' said Dr. Richard Peltier, Scientific Director of SciNet and Director of the Centre for Global Change Science.

As a physicist whose interests are focused on planetary physics and climate change prediction, Dr Peltier's work includes research on the impacts of greenhouse gas-induced global warming, which will be greatly enhanced by this system.

Accordingly the team's immediate project will be the construction of regional climate change predictions for the Province of Ontario and Great Lakes watershed region.

Another area of research for this system will be to explore the modern scientific mystery of why matter has mass and what constitutes the mass of the universe. Beginning in September, the Large Hadron Collider project based in Geneva, the most powerful particle accelerator ever built, will produce vast quantities of data, which scientists hope will be begin to unlock these mysteries. SciNet's computing power and storage capacity will be a significant contributor to the data analysis.

''SciNet will have one of the best facilities in the world that will allow Canadian physicists to participate in the adventure of the Large Hadron Collider,'' said Dr. Pierre Savard, a member of the Canadian group working at CERN, Geneva. ''This research may change our view of matter and the universe.''

Tthe supercomputer will pioneer an innovative hybrid design containing two systems that can work together or independently, connected to a massive five petabyte storage complex. Because it is a hybrid using IBM's highly efficient iDataPlex system, as well as IBM's advanced POWER6 architecture, the machine is extremely flexible, capable of running a wide range of software at a high level of performance.

This facility will involve the largest implementation of IBM's iDataPlex system, which holds twice as many processors per unit as standard systems and is entirely water cooled. More than 4,000 servers will be linked together in this multi-platform solution, including one of the world's largest POWER6 clusters and Intel x86-based clusters.
This IBM supercomputer will be one of the first systems to use Future Intel Nehalem processor families, being introduced in early 2009.

''A system this complex could only be designed by bringing together the best minds from the University of Toronto and IBM,'' said Chris Pratt, Strategic Initiatives Executive, IBM Canada. ''This is a tremendous example of public and private collaboration that will benefit the Canadian research community for many years to come.''

Funding has been provided by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation's National Platforms Fund, in partnership with the Province of Ontario and the University of Toronto.

Construction of this extremely energy efficient datacenter will begin immediately at a facility just north of Toronto. Installation of the system will begin in the fall with several milestones throughout the winter. It is anticipated that both of the main computing systems will be fully operational by summer 2009. 

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Canada's most powerful IBM supercomputer to analyse climate-change data at University of Toronto