Windows opens the door to speedy science

By November 15th, 2011

CSIRO's graphics processing unit (GPU) supercomputer maintains a strong position on this year’s Top500 list announced this week at the SC11 conference in Seattle, USA.

Coming in at number 212, CSIRO’s GPU supercomputer is one of the first GPU-based clusters to run Windows and is now ranked as the second fastest supercomputer running Windows in the world.

It’s also expected to hold on to its title as Australia’s greenest supercomputer and maintain a high position on the Green500 list with a performance of 710.67 MegaFlops/Watt, due to its use of energy efficient NVIDIA graphics processing units.

CSIRO eResearch Director Dr John Taylor said rankings for the Top500 list are determined using the Linpack benchmark test which measures, under certain conditions, the number of calculations a supercomputer can do per second.

“We’ve been building a strong collaboration with Microsoft over the past few months to optimise the Windows HPC operating system on our CSIRO GPU supercomputer and perform the Linpack test,” Dr Taylor said.

“We are thrilled with the result.  We now have a performance of 75.3 Teraflops in double precision on Windows HPC,” said Dr Taylor.

CSIRO’s GPU supercomputer runs dual Linux and Windows applications to cater for the needs of scientists who use these different operating systems for running software code and analysing data from experiments.

“We’ve been building a strong collaboration with Microsoft over the past few months to optimise the Windows HPC operating system on our CSIRO GPU supercomputer”

Dr John Taylor

“We recognised that most CSIRO scientists are working on Windows workstations now so we wanted to make supercomputing more accessible from the desktop and allow them to speed up their research, giving them a competitive advantage in science internationally,” he said.

CSIRO research leader Dr Tim Gureyev and his team have been running their Computed Tomography (CT) reconstruction software using Windows HPC on the CSIRO GPU supercomputer for the past two years and are delighted with the latest performance gains.

“We have reconstructed a large number of 3D images, from a variety of scientific domains, such as biology, medical research, geosciences, material sciences, plant and insect phenomics,” said Dr Gureyev.

“Each sample contains up to 64 billion or more voxels, like a pixel for 3D images, and usually takes up to 24 hours to reconstruct on a desktop PC. We can now do that reconstruction in less than five minutes.”

“The availability of the Windows HPC system on the CSIRO GPU cluster allows us to run programs we used to run on desktop PCs with only slight modifications. The familiar interface also reduces the barrier to adoption for researchers.”

Tim Buntel, Windows Azure Product Manager at Microsoft Australia says this result shows Windows HPC can play a significant role in high performance computing.

“We look forward to supporting CSIRO’s strategy of integrating the Microsoft Azure Cloud with CSIRO’s HPC infrastructure.”

“This will give CSIRO even greater access to supercomputing facilities without the huge costs that come with building and maintaining large supercomputers,” said Mr Buntel.

Dr Taylor says the first step is integrating CSIRO’s Windows desktops and existing high performance computing facilities and linking them to the Azure Cloud to deliver even greater benefits for scientists.

“We’re also aiming to use the cloud to explore exciting new opportunities in science such as virtual laboratories,” said Dr Taylor.

CSIRO’s GPU supercomputer was installed in Canberra in November 2009 by Xenon Systems of Melbourne. It combines 256 Intel central processing units (CPUs) with 64 NVIDIA Tesla S2050 which contain 256 graphics processing units (GPUs).

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