DST aims for top 50 spot in HPC stakes

By Jonathan Nally
Tuesday, 23 July, 2019

DST aims for top 50 spot in HPC stakes

Machine learning, artificial intelligence and analysis of huge quantities of data are on the agenda for DST’s new high performance computer facility.

Defence Science and Technology (DST), Australia’s defence research body, is aiming for a place in the world’s top 50 with the new $68 million high-performance computing (HPC) service it is establishing for the Department of Defence.

According to DST’s John Taylor — who established and managed a HPC team at CSIRO — there has been a huge increase in the use of HPC by research organisations, with DST’s new capability promising to benefit most areas of defence research.

“Whether it’s modelling and simulation of a hypersonic object travelling through the atmosphere, or analysing the vast amounts of data from our modern weapon systems, datasets are now being described in petabytes, and will be rapidly expanding to collections and datasets measured in exabytes,” he said.

“Defence scientists will be able to run code thousands of times faster than on their high-end desktop computers. That means shortening the runtime for complex problems to realistic time frames, and tackling problems we couldn’t even dream of attempting on a desktop.

“High-performance computing offers are a whole range of advantages — including accelerating the innovation cycle, which is critical to maintaining competitiveness.”

Taylor said these sorts of supercomputer facilities “tend to be one-off, unique designs tailored for specific needs and tuned for the best performance”.

“Everything the HPC team does is designed to improve the performance of researchers’ codes,” he said.

Research into machine learning and artificial intelligence are areas of strong interest for defence organisations.

“Our HPC centre will play a key role in rapidly analysing huge volumes of data, being able to call on a significant number of the graphics processing units (GPUs) required by AI algorithms,” said Taylor.

“Many of the programming interfaces will automatically pick up and use the GPUs, but we’ll also have a suite of libraries so researchers won’t have to completely rewrite existing code to access the benefits of the latest generation of high-performance computing hardware that GPUs represent.”

In the top league

Taylor’s team has been operating a pilot HPC capability at DST’s Melbourne facility. Beta users have been helping to improve DST’s understanding of how to run a supercomputer in a secure environment, as well as how to manage and support users.

Taylor says DST is aiming for a place among the top 50 of the world’s 500 fastest computers.

The world of supercomputer speed rankings is very competitive, with the number one spot changing fairly regularly. Last year, the IBM Summit supercomputer developed for the US Department of Energy was ranked number one in the world, with a speed of 122.3 petaflops. One petaflop is one thousand million million floating-point operations per second.

“Inside the top 50 is a suitable place for an organisation like DST to aim for,” said Taylor. “We’re aiming for 20 petaflops. To put that into context, we’ll be over 125 million times faster than the original Cray-1 supercomputer which ran at 160 megaflops.”

Pictured: DST HPC engineer, Chris Howlett, works on the pilot of the DST’s $68 million high performance computing facility. Image courtesy DST.

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