CSIR gets supercomputing for SKA


The Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC), at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), is upgrading its computing power in anticipation of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope.

The SKA is a mega telescope that is about 100 times more sensitive than the biggest existing radio telescope and SA is bidding against Australia to host it.

The CHPC said in a joint statement with the SKA SA project office that high-performance telescopes like the SKA require high-performance computing.

It adds that in light of this, it is in the process of upgrading its capacity in computational power to cement SA’s position in the TOP500 HPC list and ensure its capability to support its initiative for the SKA bid.

The centre says this process follows the announcement by Intel SA and SKA SA of their agreement to partner to evaluate Intel technologies for processing the enormous data rates produced by radio telescopes.

The parties entered into the agreement last month.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) is currently building the KAT-7/MeerKAT radio telescope, which serves as an SKA precursor.
“These two major initiatives, taken together, represent a significant capability. It is no accident that the MeerKAT Engineering Offices (and MeerKAT Control Centre) and the CHPC are situated only a few kilometres from each other and are currently being linked together into the new South African National Research Network, providing superfast computer networks for research.”

The CHPC adds that the utilisation of the CHPC resources to provide guidance in the design of the SKA dish and astronomy projects shows the success already displayed by the partnership in these two initiatives.
“Now that the MeerKAT team has the KAT-7 telescope operational in the Karoo and a 10Gbps (in the first phase) data link coming online [this month] from the Karoo into the CHPC, these two initiatives will link up to process the large data volumes in novel ways which may open up new scientific areas of investigation.”

The centre says a joint pilot project to capture and process a large amount of telescope “voltage data” is planned for later this year.

The completion of the Centre of Competence within CHPC is one of the strengths of SA’s ability to deliver on major projects. It aims at providing a platform to transfer the technology developed for SKA, such as the reconfigurable open architecture computing hardware board, for adoption by the broader scientific community outside astronomy.

The SKA project will cost €1.5 billion and construction could start as early as 2016, according to the DST. A decision on the host site will be made in February.

It will consist of approximately 3 000 dish-shaped antennae and other hybrid receiving technologies, with a core of about 2 000 antennae and outlying stations of 30 to 40 antennae each, spiralling out of the core. These stations will be spread over a vast area of up to 3 000km.

Research areas will include observational radio astronomy, radio astronomy instrumentation, digital signal processing, distributed data processing and RF broadband feeds, receivers and cryogenic packages.

Hosting the SKA in SA would boost the development of high-level skills and cutting-edge technology infrastructure in Africa, and would also attract expertise and collaborative projects to the continent, says SKA SA.

The CHPC has been established over the last few years as a supercomputing centre serving the country’s scientists.
“The state of the art facility is supported by the latest in data centre power and network infrastructure, and operates a number of supercomputers with different architectures.”

The CHPC adds that these include a Blue Gene/P machine, a Sun Hybrid cluster and SMP systems, and a GPU-based cluster.

It is also spearheading an initiative to establish a very large data storage capability for the country’s scientists.