Soon, Australia won’t just be home to kangaroos, kola bears and those yummy chocolate Tim Tam treats. It will also be the home of the world’s greenest supercomputer. The IBM Blue Gene/Q will take up residence at the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (VLSCI) at the University of Melbourne. And its mission is a lofty one: to help find cures to life-threatening diseases.
The University of Melbourne and IBM are in the second stage of agreements to provide the computing technology on the university’s campus. The supercomputer is expected to be operational by June. The Victorian government and the university established the $100 million VLSCI to strengthen the research capabilities and outcomes of Victorian life sciences research. The initiative brings together biology experts from around the world and massive computation power to help tackle potentially fatal diseases worldwide.
As for what makes the IBM Blue Gene/Q “green,” it’s all about efficiency. The Green500, for a third time, ranked the computer as the world’s most energy-efficient supercomputer in its latest edition, announced in November 2011. The IBM achieves its stellar efficiency by aggregating many low-power processors, according to the computer science researchers who draw up the Green500 list.
The Green500 list came about in recent years, say its developers, “as a response to the emergence of supercomputers that consume egregious amounts of electrical power and produce so much heat that extravagant cooling facilities must be constructed to ensure proper operation.” The goal of the list is to “raise awareness to other performance metrics of interest (e.g., performance per watt and energy efficiency for improved reliability),” as well as to “encourage supercomputing stakeholders to ensure that supercomputers are only simulating climate change and not creating climate change.”
And in Australia, IBM Blue Gene/Q will not only be using a minimum of energy, it will be doing a maximum of good. Understanding the complexity of diseases and attempting to come up with cures will requires a huge amount of data processing, something this type of supercomputer is uniquely capable of taking on. “Completing computationally intensive projects is critical in achieving new breakthroughs in the understanding of human disease and translating that knowledge into improved medical care,” said Glenn Wightwick, director of IBM Research and Development–Australia.
So just how powerful is this supercomputer? It’s expected to provide a whopping 836 teraflops of processing power. For those not up on their computer lingo, that is the equivalent computing power of more than 20,000 desktop computers combined. It will be one of the fastest supercomputers in Australia and the fastest one dedicated to life sciences research in the entire Southern Hemisphere.
“Through this supercomputer, scientists will be able to advance their work in finding cures and developing improved treatments for cancer, epilepsy and other devastating diseases affecting the lives of Australians and people worldwide,” Professor Jim McCluskey, deputy vice-chancellor for research at the University of Melbourne, said in a statement.