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University supercomputer simulates the universe

Tries to understand evolution of galaxies

Durham University has started using a new, 25 TeraFlop (TFlop) supercomputer for its research into the origin and evolution of the universe and galaxies.

IBM provided the hardware for the server and storage cluster, including 220 IBM iDataplex servers, eight IBM DS3500 storage devices, IBM's 620TB General Parallel File System to pool storage hardware and an IBM tape library. Intel processors were also used.

OCF, the data processing, management and storage provider, configured and installed the supercomputer using Prince II principles, and also provided training on the system to the university’s users. It will provide ongoing maintenance for the system.

The supercomputer is the fourth generation of Durham University’s ‘cosmology machine’, COSMA4, and is expected to produce more accurate simulations of the universe than ever before. With its peak performance of 25Tflops, it is seven times faster than its predecessor, COSMA3, and 50 times faster than the decommissioned COSMA2 cluster.

“The researchers are trying to answer the question 'How did the universe get to how it is?'" said Professor Carlos Frenk, director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology (ICC) at Durham University.

"We teach the computer how to do physics, how to solve the equations of physics relevant to the universe, for example, general relativity, hydrodynamics and how radiation propagates. Then you input the universe’s initial conditions and then based on the initial conditions, create virtual universes in a computer."

COSMA4 also boasts some green credentials - despite delivering far more processing power than COSMA2, it uses the same amount of electrical power as the second-generation computer.

The server cluster has an energy efficiency of more than 400 Megaflops per watt of energy consumed, which is equal to the 19th most energy-efficient system on the current Green500 List.

Furthermore, the more efficient equipment has enabled Durham University to remove three air-conditioning units from the data centre, which has cut the data centre energy consumption by 60kw.

The first generation of the cosmology machine was built around 10 years ago, using hardware from Sun.


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