University of Cambridge picks Dell to help power SKA, the world's largest telescope

By Danny Palmer
24 Jun 2014 View Comments
Distant galaxies and dark matter

The University of Cambridge has expanded its Dell-powered high-performance computing (HPC) cluster, doubling its computational power in anticipation of a big-data science project involving the world's largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometer Array (SKA).

Scheduled to be completed by 2018, the SKA project involves collaboration across multiple nations which will result in a telescope housing the world's largest streaming data processor and deployed across South Africa and Australia.

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The ultimate aim of the project is to enable scientists and astronomers to look out to the very edge of the universe, with the HPC enabling the sky to be scanned more than 10 thousand times faster than currently possible.

The University of Cambridge has a central role in the project, placing it at the forefront of big data science, and it needed the appropriate systems to power the scheme.

As a result, the University of Cambridge selected Dell, in partnership with NVIDIA and Mellanox, to power its contribution to the SKA project, with the institution attracted to the combination of the computational power and the cost-saving energy efficiency of the Dell HPC, which is ranked second for efficiency in the "Green 500".

"Dell's fresh air cooling was an ideal fit for our needs," said Paul Calleja, director of HPC service at the University of Cambridge.

"We needed to create the most efficient supercomputer in the world in order to back the prestige of the SKA project and we couldn't do that with energy-draining technology. Dell's server solutions let us increase compute power, while decreasing our energy expenditure."

Calleja went onto explain how the HPC cluster - powered by 128 Dell PowerEdge T620 servers - will also benefit other projects besides SKA.

"We're thrilled to be working on one of the most important science projects of this decade and the experience and technology we've now built will go a long way in supporting future projects," he said.

"We've received international acknowledgment for the HPC cluster and the energy efficiency of the system has kept up with our internal goals," Calleja continued, adding the scalability and ease of installation of the Dell HPC cluster were also great benefits.

"The Dell servers have been easy to deploy and they're highly scalable and versatile, which will help us face the next challenge."

Richard Rawcliffe, director for public sector at Dell UK, added: "It is incredibly exciting to see what University of Cambridge is doing with the SKA project and how this HPC-supported research will contribute to a greater understanding of our universe.

"By working with the university to develop a custom solution, we are helping them drive faster processing and increasing energy efficiency, so they get the computational power they need to deliver their important research," said Rawcliffe.

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