Why HPC Matters: Understanding Our Universe

High-performance computing systems are now essential tools for researchers working to unlock the secrets of the universe.

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Searching for gravitational waves and exploring the physics of black holes and warped space-time is all in a day’s work for teams of researchers in Australia. This is the type of work conducted by the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav). And it’s the type of work that couldn’t be carried out without the extreme computational power of a supercomputer.

In OzGrav’s case, the computational power is delivered via a new $4 million Dell EMC supercomputer launched at Swinburne University of Technology. The supercomputer, named OzSTAR, delivers an astounding peak performance of 1.2 petaflops, making it one of the most powerful supercomputers in Australia. What does that mean in layman’s terms? OzGrav’s director, Professor Matthew Bailes, explains it this way: “In one second, OzSTAR can perform 10,000 calculations for every one of the 100 billion stars in our galaxy.”1

That’s the kind of computational power it takes to shift through an unfathomable amount of data coming from giant telescopes to gain insights that help unlock the secrets of the universe. With this type of scientific research, high performance computing (HPC) is an absolute requirement. For example, researchers couldn’t begin to model the large-scale structure of the universe or simulate the formation and evolution of galaxies without HPC.

“We will be looking for gravitational waves that help us learn more about supernovas, the formation of stars, intergalactic gases and more,” Professor Bailes says. “It’s exciting to think that we at OzGrav could make the next landmark discovery in gravitational wave astrophysics — and the Dell EMC supercomputer will allow us to capture, visualize and process the data to make those discoveries.”2

The OzSTAR supercomputer is based on Dell EMC PowerEdge™ R740 compute and data-crunching nodes; a Dell EMC H-Series Networking Fabric, which is powered by the Intel® Omni-Path Architecture (Intel OPA); and Dell EMC HPC Storage with a Lustre parallel file system.

“This combination of Dell EMC technologies will deliver the incredibly high computing power required to move and analyze data sets that are literally astronomical in size,” says Andrew Underwood, Dell EMC’s Australia-New Zealand high performance computing lead, who collaborated with Swinburne on the supercomputer design.3

“Brilliant researchers are often only limited by advances in technology,” adds Chris Kelly, Vice President, Compute and Networking Solutions, Dell EMC Asia-Pacific. “With this new supercomputer, Swinburne and OzGrav will be able to embark on a new era of astronomy that could unlock answers to questions mankind has pondered for centuries. It’s an incredibly exciting time for astronomical research.”4

For a closer look at technologies used to create HPC solutions that deliver the extreme computational power needed to explore black holes and warped space-time, visit the Dell EMC Go Ahead. Dream Big. site.


Making a difference with HPC

High performance computing touches virtually every aspect of our lives. HPC is making weather forecasts more accurate, cancer therapies more precise, fraud protection more foolproof and products more efficient. In this series of articles, we explore these and other use cases that capitalize on HPC and its convergence with data analytics to illustrate why HPC matters to all of us.


1 Swinburne University of Technology news releases, “Swinburne supercomputer to be one of the most powerful in Australia,” March 7, 2018.
2 insideHPC, “Dell EMC Supercomputer to Power OzGRav Studies of Black Holes,” August 15, 2017.

3 insideHPC, “Dell EMC Supercomputer to Power OzGRav Studies of Black Holes,” August 15, 2017.

4 insideHPC, “Dell EMC Supercomputer to Power OzGRav Studies of Black Holes,” August 15, 2017.