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$18 million buys NIWA new Cray supercomputers

Rob O'Neill | June 13, 2017
Old IBM-based FitzRoy supercomputer to be retired in favour of big iron from Cray.

The Cray XC50 is one of three new supercomputers bought by NIWA.

Water and atmospheric research institute NIWA and partners are investing in three new supercomputers to enhance scientists' abilities to solve vexing problems.

NIWA today signed a six-year, $31.7 million agreement with Seattle-based supercomputer heavyweight Cray to supply the new supercomputers on behalf of the partners involved in the New Zealand eScience Infrastructure (NeSI). 

NIWA is contributing $18 million to that effort.

NIWA chief executive John Morgan today welcomed Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith's announcement that New Zealand's supercomputing capabilities are being upgraded. 

"This is one of the most significant investments in science in this country, and it will benefit all New Zealanders," Morgan said.

"NIWA is investing $18 million in the new supercomputer capability which will enable our scientists - including the largest team of weather and climate scientists in the country - to provide better information on hugely important issues such as how climate change will affect New Zealand."

Goldsmith said the existing supercomputers were at the end of their operating lives and energy intensive by today's standards. 

"The new supercomputers will deliver up to ten times the computing capability and more than four times the storage capacity of their predecessors," he said.

NeSI chair Rick Christie said the partners adopted a collaborative investment approach to shared infrastructure, contributing to a single integrated investment. 

"Today's signing kicks off a strategic infrastructure partnership powering high-performance New Zealand research over the coming six years," he said.

NeSI is a partnership between the University of Auckland, NIWA, the University of Otago, and Landcare Research to develop advanced computation and analytics capabilities across the science sector.

The three supercomputers each offer different capabilities.

Two will be situated in the High Performance Computing Facility at NIWA's Greta Point campus in Wellington.

The  first of these - a Cray XC50, launched last year - is one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world for scientific calculations, boasting a theoretical peak performance equivalent to 1.4 trillion calculations per second. 

It will replace FitzRoy, NIWA's current IBM supercomputer, which has reached the end of its operating life and cannot keep up with demand.

The second, a $4.8 million Cray CS400, is being procured on behalf of the Universities of Auckland and Otago and Landcare Research and will replace Pan, currently based at Auckland University.

The third supercomputer will be housed at the University of Auckland's Tamaki Data Centre and will act as a back-up system for NIWA.

"Industries that are weather-sensitive - such as the energy sector, farming, horticulture and tourism - will benefit directly from NIWA's ability to make more accurate and more specific forecasts," Morgan said.

 

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