High-performance facilities pair up to share IT resources

Two high-performance computing facilities in Canada have decided that working more closely together in the future would speed up the completion of research projects.

Researchers involved in several disciplines at the Shared Hierarchical Academic

Research Computing Network (SHARCNET) and High Performance Computing Virtual Laboratory (HPCVL) plan to share equipment and funding.

“”We’ve all come to the realization that we’re not going to get unlimited funding from government agencies and so on,”” said Ken Edgecombe, executive director of HPCVL at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., which together with Carleton University, The Royal Military College of Canada and the University of Ottawa comprise the research alliance. The government needs assurance “”that the money that they’re spending is not going to be spent on equipment that’s being duplicated and being used inefficiently,”” he explained.

At this point, both organizations have no studies forecasting the expected cost and time savings generated by joining forces. But last year, HPCVL gained access to the library of Numerical Algorithms Group, saving HPCVL researchers “”money and development time because these are all tried-and-true, proven algorithms,”” said Edgecombe. It particularly benefited research in fields like photonics and bioinformatics, he said.

Certain projects stand to gain the most as the research groups align their objectives, said Carmen Gicante, executive director of SHARCNET, headquartered at the University of Western Ontario in London and made up of a consortium of 11 high-performance computing clusters across south-central Ontario.

“”The major ones we’re looking at is new research into health sciences —— bioinformatics, genomics, proteomics. Because of the real push on this type of science . . . these new research areas require a lot more data storage and data manipulation capabilities.””

All major health sciences sites will be connected by a dedicated fibre network that allows staff to work more easily on the many projects being undertaken in Ontario institutions, said Gicante. He said this will boost security and eliminate slow-moving Internet traffic.

Eventually, researchers will find that HPCVL and SHARCNET offer different advantages, explained Edgecombe. For instance, those who do several types of calculations that best run in a distributed fashion with little communications between processes will look to SHARCNET, which has a collection of small servers.

On the other hand, HPCVL is one of the largest Sun Microsystems research computing sites in North America, Edgecombe added. It has 408 CPUs, 11 large servers and a large volume of memory. He said HPCVL best serves calculations that are memory-intensive or need fast communication between processes

Although there is a definite spirit of cooperation, participants admitted they were trying to smooth wrinkles as the two groups come together. Both organizations have resources that are being stretched thinly, Edgecombe said. “”We’re going to have to work on how to get the sharing of these resources down. This technology depreciates at 2.5 per cent a month, so we want to make sure we use it effectively.””

Proponents said the rise of these beefed-up research labs will be critical to Canada. Essentially, it shows that organizations need not be silos at a time when the fast pace of technology requires groups to work together to gain the most benefit, explained Edgecombe.

Likewise, good research facilities will attract top researchers to Canada and retain the brightest and the best, said Gicante. “”At SHARCNET, we have five researchers that came to Canada — I wouldn’t say primarily because of SHARCNET– but the fact that there were high-performance computing facilities available to them (was) one of the factors in attracting the candidates.””

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