$23M supercomputer facility opened in Wellington

$23M supercomputer facility opened in Wellington

A key use for the complex of three Cray supercomputers will be weather forecasting

A cRay supercomputer being installed at NIWA's campus facility this year

A cRay supercomputer being installed at NIWA's campus facility this year

Credit: Dave Allen (NIWA)

New Zealand’s High Performance Computing Facility has officially opened at research institute NIWA’s Greta Point campus in Wellington.

Research, science and innovation minister Dr Megan Woods cut the ribbon on the complex, comprising three new interconnected supercomputers – two based in Wellington and one in Auckland – that will be used by Kiwi researchers to investigate scientific issues of national significance.

“This marks a step change for science in New Zealand and a further advancement towards an innovative, future-focused society,” said Woods. “The supercomputers are a significant upgrade with 10 times the computing capability of its predecessor.

"This will have a whole range of benefits for scientific research, including better understanding issues around climate change, genomics, the management of New Zealand’s freshwater assets and resilience to natural hazards."

Last year, NIWA inked a six-year, $31.7 million contract with specialist Cray for three of its supercomputers, each offering different capabilities.

Two are situated in the High Performance Computing Facility at NIWA’s Greta Point campus.

The first – a Cray XC50 – was one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world for scientific calculations, boasting a theoretical peak performance equivalent to 1.4 trillion calculations per second.

It replaced FitzRoy, NIWA’s IBM supercomputer, which had reached the end of its operating life and could not keep up with demand.

Meanwhile the second, a $4.8 million Cray CS400, was being procured on behalf of the Universities of Auckland and Otago and Landcare Research to replace Pan, based at Auckland University.

The third supercomputer will be housed at the University of Auckland’s Tamaki Data Centre and will act as a back-up system for NIWA.

One of the supercomputers' key uses will be to advance weather forecasting, enabling more precise forecasts and helping to refine forecasting of climate extremes and hazardous events.

“Improved weather forecasts will enhance the ability of critical services, such as Fire and Emergency New Zealand, to both identify and manage hazards," Woods said. "It will also help farmers and environmental managers make more informed decisions using the best information available."

The facility has the ability to carry out data-intensive research at a vast scale, she said, using specialised software to underpin research on machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“This investment of $23 million represents some of the world’s most advanced supercomputing power and has been made possible by a strong collaborative initiative between NIWA and NeSI, the New Zealand eScience Infrastructure," Woods added.

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