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Big Blue to handle SKA's Big Data about Big Bang

Dutch government hands over €32.9m for exascale computer

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Big Blue has been given the ultimate big data gig - collecting and analysing data all the way back to the universe's early history, thanks to a brief from the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) and a €32.9m cheque from the Dutch government. ASTRON and IBM will collaborate on a computer capable of ingesting the expected exabyte a day that will be generated by the Square Kilometer Array (SKA).

In an announcement issued today, the two organisations say “ASTRON and IBM scientists in the Netherlands and Switzerland have launched an initial five-year collaboration called DOME, named for the protective cover on telescopes and the famous Swiss mountain."

"DOME will investigate emerging technologies for large-scale and efficient exascale computing, data transport and storage processes, and streaming analytics that will be required to read, store and analyze all the raw data that will be collected daily.”

Ton Engbersen of IBM Research's Zurich facility says, in a statement, that “If you take the current global daily Internet traffic and multiply it by two, you are in the range of the data set that the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope will be collecting every day. This is Big Data Analytics to the extreme. With DOME we will embark on one of the most data-intensive science projects ever planned, which will eventually have much broader applications beyond radio astronomy research.”

The DOME boffins will research “advanced accelerators and 3D stacked chips for more energy-efficient computing” and hopes they will do the trick, along with “novel optical interconnect technologies and nanophotonics to optimize large data transfers, as well as high-performance storage systems based on next-generation tape systems and novel phase-change memory technologies.”

Work already undertaken BY IBM for ASTRON's low-frequency array (LOFAR), will be an important stepping stone towards the DOME project.

LOFAR uses an IBM Blue Gene/P system, so it seems likely IBM's HPC crew may get another turn for this projrct. LOFAR also use plus un-named storage systems. We'd be a little surprised if IBM's SONAS scale-out NAS product isn't present too, but cannot guess just what kind of rig will be needed to handle the next-generation tape systems mentioned above.

The DOME project will proceed regardless of which of the two competing SKA hosts – Australia and South Africa – wins the right to host the telescope. Recent scuttlebutt suggested South Africa had won the competition, but the committee charged with making the decision recently issued a statement saying no definitive judgement has been made. ®

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