McGill gets ready to house new computer facility

McGill University, Consortium Laval UQAM and Eastern Quebec (CLUMEQ) have finally received the money they were first awarded more than a year ago for their joint project of a high performance computing facility.

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) granted $4 million about 12 months ago for the project, but the cheque didn’t arrived until last week. The Quebec Ministry of Education nearly matched the CFI’s contribution, bringing the total to just under $8 million.

While equipment will be shared between the three institutions, the bulk will reside at McGill, including a 64-processor shared memory computer and a 256-processor distributed memory cluster computer. Research will take place in areas such as engineering, environmental sciences, bioinformatics and computer science.

In some respects, the project has similarities to grid computing – a process that harnesses unused processing cycles of all computers in a network to complete tasks that are too intense for one stand-alone machine.

“Locally, it is grid computing in the sense that it is distributed computing because it’s a cluster. We’re also networked through the RISC grid to the rest of Quebec and the rest of Canada,” said Wagdi Habashi, a professor of engineering at McGill university and project leader of CLUMEQ in Montreal.

Despite this, grid computing is not the main goal or purpose of the project, Habashi said.

And while the research will cover diverse areas, it will require overlapping co-operation between the disciplines for the implementation process to be successful. For instance, an engineer needs to think like a computer scientist and vice-versa when attempting to deal with issues such as how information on each processor can be transmitted to the next, he said.

“So quite often, how you break down a very complex problem…from several machines to make them work simultaneously but (at the same time) having to communicate as little as possible is really a huge computer engineering undertaking,” he said.

The project is now underway and expected to be operational by next month.

McGill University in Montreal can be reached at

The Quebec Ministry of Education is online at