KSA university and IBM to build ME's fastest supercomputer

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and IBM to collaborate on sixth most powerful computer in the world

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By  Mark Sutton Published  September 22, 2008

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and IBM today announced a plan to the most powerful supercomputer in the Middle East.

The Shaheen supercomputer, which will be based on the IBM Bluegene/P system, will rival the fastest computers in Europe and should rank in the top ten worldwide. It will also be one of the largest supercomputers in use purely by an academic institution.

KAUST, a new graduate-level research university which is being established on the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia, will use the system for research across all of its science and engineering discipline, and will also be used as a platform for research into high performance computing.

Shaheen, named for the Arabic word for the Peregrine Falcon, will be based on a 16 rack Bluegene/P system, with 65,536 individual processor cores, capable of providing up to 222 Teraflops (trillion floating point operations) of computing power.

The system will be comparable to the JUGENE supercomputer, based in Julich, Germany, which also uses the Bluegene/P architecture. JUGENE is currently ranked as the sixth fastest supercomputer in the world, and the fastest outside of the US according to the Top500 List, which compiles supercomputing benchmarks.

While there are already a number of supercomputer systems in the region, notably with Aramco in Saudi Arabia, this new system would be by far the most powerful in the Middle East, and the only one in the current top 100 systems worldwide. The value of the project was not disclosed.

Professor Choon Fong Shih, KAUST’s president designate said: “From the outset, we have been determined that KAUST will be a major new resource in the global scientific community. As a scientist myself, I can tell you that the Shaheen supercomputer is a tangible and outstanding example of our commitment to advancing science. With IBM, which is the pre-eminent provider and innovator in supercomputing today, KAUST is truly driving inquiry and discovery, and catalyzing Saudi Arabia’s human and economic potential.”

The Shaheen system will be developed by the KAUST/IBM Centre for Deep Computing Research, a collaborative effort between the two which aims to develop HPC science alongside other research partners around the globe. IBM and KAUST have an agreement in place to share any intellectual property generated for commercial use.

The centre has already begun development work on Shaheen at IBM’s research laboratories in New York State, with the aim of completing and handing over the system before shipping it to Saudi for installation at the KAUST campus in the summer of next year. The aim is to have the supercomputer ready to for the official opening of KAUST in September 2009.

The project for KAUST will also include a 1.9 petabyte storage subsystem, with aggregate bandwidth of 16 GB/s; high capacity archiving subsystem to manage data and backup, a 128 node Linux-based x86 cluster to handle auxiliary computing; and connection infrastructure and networking to provide highspeed backbone and connection across campus and to global research networks.

One of the reasons for choosing IBM for the project, along with its leadership in HPC, was its ability to provide a complete computing solution for KAUST, according to Majid Al-Ghaslan, interim CIO at KAUST and the University’s leader in the acquisition, design, and development of the Shaheen supercomputer.

Al-Ghaslan told itp.net: “In terms of pure architecture, IBM is the leader at this stage in supercomputing. From our side at KAUST we are setting up both the research agenda and the computation agenda, IBM is working with us and we are looking at it from a bottom up approach, from the architecture up to the middleware and application development - it will be a fully integrated solution. That is one of the reasons why we went with IBM, because no one else can do this end-to-end integration.”

The energy efficiency of the Bluegene/PL architecture will also mean that Shaheen is one of the greenest supercomputer deployments possible.

The centre will aim to scale the system up to the petabyte level (one quadrillion floating point operations per second) the current record for supercomputer performance, over the next two to three years.

The aim is not to compete with other supercomputing systems, however but to encourage scientific research in the region, Al-Ghaslan said.

“When you look at the history [of computing] some of the biggest names out there, like Bill Gates initially his whole fascination with computing came from access to a supercomputing laboratory in Seattle, so hopefully we can replicate that here as well,” he said.

“The most important aspect is not making the list, because these rankings are temporary, what matters is the long term commitment to supercomputing and how the projects that will be running on this machine will benefit KAUST and the world. We really feel confident that this will enable both the research agenda, the regional development agenda and attract the best scientists out there to KAUST,” Al-Ghaslan added.

Pat Toole, IBM General Manager, Technology & Intellectual Property said: “We consider it a privilege to create a supercomputer that will lead to the generation of a knowledge society among Saudi Arabia and IBM's most talented researchers on this important joint project. We see this as a superb way to animate deep computing techniques with practical and important real-world challenges that the living laboratory of Saudi Arabia is uniquely able to provide.”

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