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Supercomputer coming to Vaughan

University of Toronto and IBM to build $50-million machine

Canada’s fastest, most powerful supercomputer will soon call a Vaughan warehouse home.

Last week, the University of Toronto SciNet Consortium and IBM announced an agreement to build the $50-million powerhouse, which will be used by researchers in high-energy experimental physics, theoretical astrophysics, aerospace engineering, chemical physics, environmental physics and complex medical research.

“It will probably sit well into the top 20 (supercomputers) in the world,” said Dick Peltier, U of T physics professor and scientific director of SciNet. “It’s the second largest computing facility ever built at a single university and the only such facility outside of the United States.

“It will be about 30 times more powerful than any facility that exists currently in Canada.”

Though the machine will gobble up an immense two megawatts of power, it will be among the most energy-efficient of its kind in the world, Peltier said. The more than 4,000 linked servers that will make up the supercomputer will feature Intel’s new Nehalem processors and will be entirely water-cooled.

“This is a very good thing because the work that I do myself is everything to do with climate change prediction and so on, and we don’t want to be drawing more power than absolutely necessary,” he said.

Because of the supercomputer’s appetite for electricity, finding a suitable home was a challenge, Peltier said.

“It turned out that there was nowhere in the city of Toronto where we could get that much power without having to build a new power substation,” he said. “This facility in Vaughan had the power available and so it was really very attractive to us to build there.”

The new machine will be linked via optical fibre to U of T’s downtown campus, where the majority of the supercomputer’s support personnel will work, Peltier said, though some will be stationed at the main Keele St. and Hwy. 7 location.

Preparatory work has already begun on the warehouse ahead of installing the supercomputer, which will be completed in two phases, he said, with the first expected to be operational by the end of the year.

“The second and larger of the two machines will be built in stages beginning in January and we expect that that portion of the facility will be fully operationally by, let’s say, beginning of July,” Peltier said.

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation is providing funding for the supercomputer — about $10 million a year over five years — in partnership with the province and U of T.

“It’s absolutely state of the art,” Peltier said. “It’s a huge win for the University of Toronto and very, very exciting for all of us working in various areas in science.”

Vaughan Today
In print: August 29, 2008, page 10
Online: August 31, 2008 [link]