Western Canada computing grid up and running

A $48-million project to unite four supercomputing installations at four universities in western Canada has been completed, WestGrid announced this week.

WestGrid is a partnership between the University of British Columbia (UBC), the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and Simon Fraser University. The schools are joined by a gigabit Ethernet fibre-optic connection. Because the infrastructure enables the transfer of large volumes of data it will mean better inter-university collaboration for research scientists.

It was funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Alberta and Research Authority and the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund.

“WestGrid is really about shared resources and high performance computing,” said Ken Hewitt, chief administrative officer at WestGrid in Calgary. “There’s a wide range of researchers in all kinds of disciplines that require computational power to do their work. One of the issues is that different kinds of research require different kinds of computing power, so at WestGrid we’ve acquired three high-performance computing systems.”

Hewitt said WestGrid will help support research in disciplines such as astronomy, molecular modeling and pharmaceutical research.

“The nature of research in the science and engineering communities is starting to change,” Hewitt explained. “Many of the last great challenges in research are now being addressed only by major international collaborations between researchers and the sharing of resources. This is particularly true in things like particle physics and oceanography.”

The system at the University of Alberta consists of a large-scale parallel computing platform from Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI). It sits on an a single SGI Origin server running Irix, SGI’s flavour of Unix and consists of 256 processors. It can store up to 5TB on disk and 10TB on tape.

The University of Calgary system is a cluster of multi-processors (CluMP) for message passing parallel computing and includes a 4TB disk storage system.

UBC’s TRIUMF labs has an IBM Corp. grid solution, consisting of 512 two-processor servers running Linux. It has a 10TB disk storage space and a 70TB tape storage system.

All three are connected to a networked storage site at Simon Fraser University, which is comprised of 24TB of disk and 76TB of tape to provide additional storage for the other sites.

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