Tech hotspot fires up supercomputer
"You don't buy these things, they get offered to a select few," says the University of Canterbury's Professor Tim David, who is in charge of New Zealand's most powerful computer.
It's hard to talk over the roar of cooling fans in the air-conditioned room that holds the "Blue Fern" supercomputer.
Hundreds of flashing green lights within indicate everything is as it should be. If anything does goes wrong, say a hard drive fails, an IBM engineer on the other side of the world is likely to know about it before Blue Fern's local masters. That's part of the service that comes with the $5 million lease deal the University of Canterbury struck with IBM for one of its Blue Gene/L supercomputers, which can process a staggering 11 trillion operations a second.
In obtaining the 4000-processor computer, the university joins a group of 25 academic institutions with that level of computing power, including Harvard and MIT. It might appear to be overkill then for a smaller institution like the University Canterbury to have the only one of its type in Australasia. But that underestimates the ambition of the institution, which is a hotspot for technology research and development.
types of tasks Blue Fern will tackle include one for Professor Andy
Sturman of the Centre for Atmospheric Research. He has been measuring
wind flows over the South Island to provide data to companies to build
Steve George, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at
Canterbury, has been modelling weather patterns - essential to
understanding climate change.
Blue Fern will also be used to conduct research into Alzheimer's
disease and diabetes. Canterbury will participate in the Blue Brain
project, an IBM-backed venture to build a computational model of a
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