CSIRO Computing History, Chapter 5

By August 12th, 2019

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Last updated: 12 Aug 2019.
Robert C. Bell

Chapter 5. Joint Supercomputing Facility – the Cray Research era

Later systems

  • Policy Committee on Computing

This Committee managed the policy on CSIRO computing facilities. In 1989, it set up the Supercomputing Facilities Task Force, to decide on follow-on facilities from the Cyber 205.

  • 1989: Supercomputing Facilities Task Force

This was set up in early 1989, and was headed by Mike Coulthard from CSIRO Applied Geomechanics. Other members of the team included Charles Johnson from Materials Science and Engineering (name at the time?), Bob Smart from the Division of Information Technology, Robert Bell from the Division of Atmospheric Research, and several others. CSIRO issued a call for expressions of interest, asked for a replacement for the 205, that had to be faster, run UNIX, had 10 Gbyte of disc storage, with a few other criteria.

Benchmarks were developed to allow vendors to demonstrate performance.

Proposals were received from CDC (ETA), Convex, Cray Research (one for an X-MP, one for a Y-MP in conjunction with Leading Edge Technologies), IBM and Fujitsu.

Proposals from Cray and Convex were short-listed, and Bob Smart and Rob Bell left on 29th July 1989 to visit Purdue University, CDC, Cray Research, Convex and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, to carry out benchmarking, and to gather information.

At Purdue, Bob and Rob evaluated an ETA-10 running UNIX. After about half the benchmarks didn’t even compile, it was clear that although the ETA-10 might have been an attractive follow-on from the 205, that this was a lost cause, with CDC pulling the plug on the ETA enterprise in April 1989. A visit to CDC in Minneapolis gave no further assurance.

Bob and Rob then visited Cray Research, Convex and NCAR.  At Convex, performance issues became evident in access to memory.

Two propositions were then put to the PCC: one a proposal from Convex for several of its C series vector machines, and a proposal from Cray Research and Leading Edge Technologies to share in a Cray Y-MP.  (A proposal from Cray Research for a CSIRO-only Cray X-MP was not recommended.)

At a meeting in August 1989, the PCC decided on the Cray Research/Leading Edge Technologies shared Cray Y-MP proposal.  This happened while Bob Frater, the PCC chair, was absent from the meeting to attend an event at CSIRO Radiophysics, and Alan Reid took over as chair.)  Minter Ellison was called on to do due diligence on LET.

See https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1300&dat=19891113&id=mQAzAAAAIBAJ&sjid=pJEDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5570,5349828&hl=en for a report in “The Age” from 13 November 1989 about the setting up of the JSF and the Strategic Research Foundation.

  • 1990-1992: Joint Supercomputing Facility; Cray Y-MP2/216 SN 1409 (cherax I), Leading Edge Technologies, at LET Port Melbourne.
  • The Y-MP was installed at Leading Edge Technologies premises in Normanby Road Port Melbourne in February/March 1990, with acceptance testing (16 hours per day) being run in March.  The system was opened by Barry Jones on the day before a Federal Election, and was named “cherax”. The name was chosen as a play on cherax – the scientific name for the yabby, the Australian Cray :-). We initially pronounced cherax with a starting sound like “chips”, but at the opening of the first CSIRO Cray on 23rd March 1990, Barry Jones AC FAA FACE FAHA FASSA FTSE, then Minister for Science in the Hawke government, remarked that “since the name is derived from the Greek, the pronunciation is cherax, as in chemistry” (with a hard “k” sound). We stood corrected.

  • 1990-1997: Supercomputing Support Group

    This was formed in 1990, with Robert Bell being appointed as leader (initially part-time) from May, and recruitment led to the addition of Len Makin, Marek Michalewicz and Simon McClenahan.  The group was co-located with CSIRO Division of Information Technology at its Melbourne laboratory, firstly at 55 Barry St, then from June 1991 at 723 Swanston St (with University of Melbourne, RMIT, IBM, ACCI, CITRI, etc), Carlton.  LET provide Help Desk services, with Eva Hatzi being appointed, and system and other management.

  • On 14th November 1991, CSIRO initiated the Data Migration Facility on its home filesystem on cherax, with data being written to two 3480-compatible tape cartridges (each capable of holding about 240 Mbyte), using operator mounting services.


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