U of Manitoba gets supercomputing discount from Sun

Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc. has made a further contribution to the University of Manitoba’s Polaris high-performance computing research facility by giving the university

a $1.3-million discount on upgrades to its Sun Fire 6800 parallel processor system.

Gerry Miller, executive director of information services and technology at the university, said the $1.3-million discount was in addition to Sun’s normal educational discounts. Sun also substantially reduced its price on the original eight-processor Sun Fire system installed at the facility in 2001, he said. That system has now been upgraded – in two stages – to 24 1.05-GHz UltraSparc III processors. The facility has 48GB of high-speed memory and a terabyte of disk storage in three highly reliable disk arrays. It runs Sun’s Solaris operating system and a number of specialized research applications, Miller said.

The total value of the upgraded system is around $3 million, Miller said.

A Province of Manitoba technology fund and the federal government’s Western Economic Diversification program also helped establish the high-performance facility, Miller said.

The in-kind donation to the Winnipeg-based university is just the latest in a series of contributions Sun Canada has made to Canadian campuses, said Lynne Zucker, who heads the company’s education program in Canada.

Sun has donated equipment and/or funded research programs at Queen’s University, University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, University of New Brunswick and Simon Fraser University.

Such activity has helped Sun do a good deal of business with Canadian universities. For instance, the company recently supplied servers and storage to the University of Alberta for its Text Analysis Portal for Research (TAPOR). At the University of Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, the PolyGrames Research Center for the Study of Advanced Microwave and Spatial Electronics is using Sun servers, storage and software, and the Department of Biomedical Engineering is using Sun technology to develop new medical imaging models.

The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Montreal’s McGill University recently added Sun storage hardware to handle petroleum industry seismic data used in its research work, and Sun hardware is the basis of a high-performance computing facility at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.

Miller said the University of Manitoba’s high-performance computing facility is used mainly for “”grand challenge”” research problems that require large amounts of computing power. Demand to use the facility exceeds the available capacity, he said, so research applications are evaluated by a university committee.

The university’s physics, chemistry, and engineering departments are particularly heavy users of the high-performance facility, said Miller, but researchers in computer science, agricultural and food sciences and other departments also use it.

The University of Manitoba participates in the High Performance Computing Virtual Laboratory, a university supercomputing research consortium based at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. This means capacity on systems at several universities is shared among participating researchers. The Winnipeg facility is connected to CA*net 4, a national high-speed research network. Miller said researchers at the University of Manitoba also collaborate with colleagues at other institutions and outside academia.

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