Supercomputing Made Possible on Campus

by Peter Mok

In the past, the issue of setting up a supercomputing facility in the University was raised a few times but turned down due to a number of reasons. First of all, supercomputing is only required for large scale and number crunching applications which are, if any, rare in the University. It is therefore not viable to purchase an extremely expensive supercomputer especially when it is only to be used for a few projects. Secondly, there is the possibility of using the supercomputers in other universities in Hong Kong or overseas. However, this has proved to be impractical from past experiences.

Although the reasons were sound, the lack of such a facility does hinder CityU's ability to undertake research work that requires enormous computing power. With this in mind, the Computing Services Centre (CSC) continues to seek alternative solutions regardless of the opposition. After months and months of persistent negotiations and hard work, the CSC had finally made a breakthrough. Taking the opportunity of the regular upgrade exercise of central computing facility, as well as a joint venture with Sun Microsystems, a third Sun Ultra Enterprise 10000 Server has been installed in March for academic and research uses. This new E10000 with 24 top-of-the-line 400 MHz UltraSparc CPUs is a machine of supercomputer class with a total processing power of 19.2 Gflops equal to the horsepower of the two existing E10000 servers combined. Besides high performance CPUs, the new system also includes 6 GB memory and 460 GB disk storage. Available software includes HPC cluster tools, HPC Load Sharing Facility software as well as Sun-Netscape Alliance software products.

With the establishment of the new machine, the benefits are two-fold. On the one hand, it can offload the research work and some teaching activities from the existing machine in order to make room for the envisaged growth in the near future. On the other hand, the new system can be configured dynamically to become a dedicated supercomputer when and as needed. The latter thus meets the requirements of large-scaled research projects without involving a huge sum of investment from the University.

As the new system is already in place, it is time to think seriously about possible research projects that can best utilise the new system of supercomputer class. In the meantime, it is planned that the academic & research accounts on the existing Unix machine as well as the required application software will be migrated to this new machine soon. Please watch out for the migration schedule which will be announced shortly. The whole migration process is expected to be completed in the Summer Semester.