Niwa seeks supercomputer

BY TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 09:00 18/05/2009

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The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research is shopping for a new supercomputer that will dwarf the power of any operating in New Zealand today.

Niwa's existing Cray T3E supercomputer was rated the fastest computer in the southern hemisphere and the 60th-fastest in the world when it was installed in June 1999, but is now believed to be one of the last two of its kind still in operation.

Principal scientist Michael Uddstrom says its replacement will be at least 100 times as capable and will greatly increase Niwa's ability to predict the impact of extreme weather and climate change.

It would also be significantly more capable than Canterbury University's Blue Fern supercomputer, bought for $5 million in 2007, he says.

"We definitely have the workload to exercise such a machine.

"It will let us forecast weather and the impact of weather much more accurately and that is primarily because we could make better use of observational data coming out of satellites that require 60 to 70 times the capacity we have today."

The new supercomputer was budgeted for as part of a $58m three- year capital investment programme approved last year, that also included funding for upgrades to Niwa's ships and offices.

Niwa will begin evaluating responses from suppliers this week and hopes to select a machine next month. The purchase will then need to be approved by Niwa's board, and ministers.

Dr Uddstrom says the proposed investment has already attracted top scientists from overseas to work at Niwa.

"We see it as a scientific instrument rather than an IT device.

"The new kinds of machines we are looking at are all evolutions of the T3E. The key thing is the memory which is the key to making these systems work for the kinds of problems we want to solve."

The supercomputer will be housed at the Niwa site at Greta Pt in Wellington.

There would be no market for Niwa's old Cray, Dr Uddstrom says. It would be the successful tenderer's responsibility to remove it, and it might be offered to a museum.

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- The Dominion Post

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