by Byron Connolly

University of Melbourne debuts ‘Spartan’ HPC service

Jun 29, 2016
Education IndustryHigh-Performance ComputingTechnology Industry

The University of Melbourne has switched on a new high performance computing (HPC) service, which it claims is unique in the education sector.

Dubbed ‘Spartan’, it combines a traditional HPC with a flexible cloud component, and the university claims no other educational institution has put a system like this into production before.

Dr Bernard Meade, head of research computer services at the university, said standard HPC platforms are built as pure bare metal systems and given the ability to burst into the cloud. Others are built purely in the cloud with virtualisation resources.

“We are mixing the two but the actual management of our HPC service is in the cloud so that we’ve got all of the flexibility. Because the way we look at it, there’s no point building the management and log in nodes on hardware, on bare metal, when they actually don’t do all that much work.”

The Spartan service – which includes Dell servers, switches from Mellanox and Cisco, and runs the Linux operating system – can quickly scale into cloud-based virtual machines as needed.

Spartan can grow and evolve according to the demands of researchers, expanding physically or virtually as required. The unique design features a nucleus of high performance, tightly coupled machines, augmented by thousands of compute cores in the Melbourne Node of the Research Cloud.

“Traditional HPC systems are typically tailored for a few specific use cases but in practice are used for a much wider variety of applications, resulting in less than optimal usage,” he said.

Cloud systems allow for the sharing of computing resources without the need to be prescriptive as to how they are used. They also allow for the rapid deployment and reclaiming of resources for the shared pool.

Spartan is designed to take the best of both of these worlds, Meade said.

Researchers in specialised fields such as molecular and fluid dynamics, astronomy, astrophysics simulations and chemistry will benefit from the processing power provided by the HPC service.

“There’s also potential for finance and economics [researchers] who are starting to use HPCs for trend analysis,” he said.

This system will be used for around 1,000 projects, said Meade.

“High level computing has become an integral part of much of the research activity undertaken at the university and Spartan will help it provide a world-class research environment,” said Professor Margaret Sheil, acting vice-chancellor at the University of Melbourne.

The system caters for the diverse workloads of modern research, rather than forcing them all together in a sub-optimal environment, Sheil said.

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