Quebec supercomputer sets Canadian standard

MONTREAL — It’s the most powerful supercomputer in Canada, and it has already taken on the field at a national high-performance computing challenge.

CLUMEQ was unveiled Monday at McGill University in Montreal. Named for the three universities involved in the project (Laval, Université

de Québec à Montréal and McGill), the independent parallel system houses a 64-processor Silicon Graphics machine with a shared memory of 128 gigabytes and a 256-processor cluster with a distributed memory of 384 gigabytes. Both have high-speed RAID disk subsystems and an automated tape library.

Although housed at McGill, scientists from the three universities will use the supercomputer for research in several fields including engineering, aerodynamics, nano-technologies, environmental sciences, bioinformatics, computer sciences, medical sciences and the arts.

CLUMEQ’s supercomputer was demonstrated to be the fastest in the country in a recent Canadian Inter-Networked Scientific Supercomputer national challenge. The challenge grouped Canada’s major high-performance computing sites in a grid-like fashion to attempt to solve in 24-hours of computing, a problem that normally would have taken 3 1/2 years to compute on a PC.

CLUMEQ’s 256 processors handled almost a third of the necessary number crunching – 2,031 of 6,489 computing units – while the remaining machines and their combined 1,050 processors managed the rest.

The CLUMEQ supercomputer has demonstrated a sustained performance of 357 billion additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions per second, according to Dr. Wagdi Habashi, professor of mechanical engineering at McGill and president of CLUMEQ.

While there is no clear definition of what constitutes a supercomputer, Habashi jokingly said it was any computer built by the Americans that the Russians want to get their hands on. He added that we now have the capability of building supercomputers that can predict weather patterns or what affect wind can have on an entire ship or rotor blade without spending millions of dollars.

About 20 per cent of the computer’s use will be allocated to other Canadian universities and small businesses, said Anthony Masi, vice-principal of information systems and technology at McGill. He said the supercomputer offers “”a unique opportunity for the three universities to learn about parallel processing.””

Parallel processing enables a computer to perform all operations simultaneously even if it uses commodity chips. It is also a cheaper alternative to sequential processing.

“”It offers the advantage of speed, but also enables us to ask questions we couldn’t before.””

Masi said the CLUMEQ supercomputer has very specific uses such as for 3-D modeling and visualizations, but eventually could be used for other applications such as special effects for the film industry.

McGill was chosen as the site for the computer because of its long-standing tradition of being a leading network centre of Quebec, according to Masi.

The acquisition of the supercomputer was made possible by an $8-million grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, a federal government agency, and the Quebec government. Silicon Graphics, Allegra Solutions and StorageTek also contributed to the project. Allegra Solutions designed the distributed computer’s architecture and operating system and carried out all the tests to launch the technology. It is also assisting CLUMEQ in harnessing and optimizing the cluster computer’s performance in making it available in time to its users and in its maintenance.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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