New HPC facility launched at NZ’s NIWA

The High Performance Computing Facility comprises three new interconnected Cray supercomputers
  • Stuart Corner (Computerworld New Zealand)
  • 08 November, 2018 09:35

Research, science and innovation minister Dr Megan Woods has officially opened New Zealand’s High Performance Computing Facility at NIWA’s campus in Wellington, 17 months after the government announced plans to invest in the facility.

The High Performance Computing Facility comprises three new interconnected Cray supercomputers – two Cray XC50s, one each in Wellington and Auckland and a Cray CS400 in Auckland — that, the government says, will meet the needs of New Zealand researchers to investigate scientific issues of national significance.

Woods said the facility has the ability to carry out data-intensive research at a vast scale, through to specialised software to underpin research on machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“This investment of $23 million represents some of the world’s most advanced supercomputing power and has been made possible by a strong collaborative initiative between NIWA [National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research] and NeSI, the New Zealand eScience Infrastructure," Wood said.

“The capabilities and potential have extended enormously since NIWA received country’s first supercomputer almost 20 years ago,” Woods said — a Silicon Graphics/Cray T3E that came into service in 1999.

When plans for the new facility were announced NeSI put a figure of $31.7 million on a six-year contract.

NeSI director Nick Jones detailed plans for the upgrade in the organisation’s March 2017 newsletter, saying: “Early in 2016 NeSI started preparations to replace both the NIWA IBM P575/POWER6 and Auckland IBM iDataPlex x86 platforms, selecting a single procurement process with NIWA as the lead agent working alongside NeSI’s other collaborators.”

NIWA said it would invest $18m millionin the facility and a further $4.8 million would be spent on behalf of the Universities of Auckland and Otago and Landcare Research for a Cray CS400 to replace the IBM iDataPlex x86s.

No details were provided on where the balance of the $31.7 million figure cited in NeSI’s announcement would come from. However Cray said last year that it had been awarded a US$18 million contract for the three computers.

Woods said the new computers had 10 times the computing capability of their predecessors and would bring a range of benefits for scientific research, including better understanding of issues around climate change, genomics, the management of New Zealand’s freshwater assets and resilience to natural hazards.

“One of its key uses will be to advance weather forecasting, enabling more precise forecasts and helping to refine forecasting of climate extremes and hazardous events," she said.

“Improved weather forecasts will enhance the ability of critical services, such as Fire and Emergency New Zealand, to both identify and manage hazards. It will also help farmers and environmental managers make more informed decisions using the best information available."

According to Cray more than two thirds of the World Meteorological Organisation’s long range modelling centres run Cray supercomputers for numerical weather prediction.