Post secondary research institutes in Canada’s Atlantic provinces are about to join their counterparts in Ontario, British Columbia and Québec by establishing a high-performance computing cluster featuring advanced collaboration tools.The Atlantic Computational Excellence Network, (ACEnet) is made up of seven members including Memorial University of Newfoundland, the University of New Brunswick, Mount Allison University, Dalhousie University, St. Francis Xavier University, St. Mary’s University and the University of Prince Edward Island. The group was given a $9.9-million grant last year from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and a mix of financial contributions from the provinces and private sector.
Although the first stage of the cluster has been set up with a mix of servers from IBM Canada, Silicon Graphics Inc. and Sun Microsystems, ACENet has officially announced Sun as its preferred supplier. However, Graham Mowbray, its executive director, said there would still be some SGI equipment to handle some of the symmetric multi-processing (SMP) work.
Canada already boasts a number of high-performance computing (HPC) clusters such as the Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing Network (SHARCNet) and the Western Canada Research Grid (WestGrid), which are used by researchers to perform complex calculations or run simulations in a variety of fields such as computational physics and biology.
Mowbray said ACENet will offer dedicated resources for researchers investigating projects in a variety of areas, including oceanography, aquaculture and offshore oil and gas.
“The obvious question is, ‘Why don’t you get a big long piece of fibre and connect up with SHARCNet?’” he said. “I think what we’ll find is we’ll tend to build ACENet in a way that reflects the main amount of research being done in Atlantic Canada.”
ACENet will include Sun Solaris-based SunFire x64 servers running AMD Opteron processors, StorEdge arrays and identity management software, along with its Control Station software to manage the grid.
Mowbray said most of the cluster’s needs would be satisfied through off-the-shelf tools, making a distinction between ACENet and a lab that might use more experimental or custom technologies.
“My own preference is to run it as a service, where we’re using proven technology wherever we can,” he said. “If you’re an oil and gas researcher or you’re part of a team of chemical researchers, you don’t want to go to ACENet and wonder if it’s up today.”
Peter H. Poole, an associate professor and Canada Research Chair in modelling and computer simulation at St. Francis Xavier University, said ACENet could prove useful in creating simulations of drilling muds, which are pumped into the ground in oil drilling projects but which can be difficult to extract and discard later.
“There are projects out there that we can’t even contemplate starting today, but through something like ACENet we could corner the market,” he said.
“We really need to take advantage of areas where scattered researchers can coalesce around a technology. I’ve already pitched to my colleagues that other regions can make good use of these distributed HPC consortia, but Atlantic Canada needs it.”
Mowbray said the first phase of ACENet, which will probably take a year, includes building everything from computer rooms and running fibre to the clusters and using Sun grid tools to tie SMP machines together. The second phase will be populating the compute nodes with more processors. By 2006-2007, phase three will be dedicated to innovation, he said.

Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+