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Cosmology and solar research turn to SGI

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The UK Computational Cosmology Consortium (COSMOS), based at the University of Cambridge, has selected SGI's Altix UV 1000 to support its research. The announcement came at the same time as a decision by the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory Solar Observatories Group at Stanford University to choose SGI server and storage infrastructure to support the Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) group's research into the origin of solar variability. 

Professor Stephen Hawking, principal investigator, COSMOS, said: 'Recent progress towards a complete understanding of the universe has been impressive, but many puzzles remain. Cosmology is now a precise science, and we need supercomputers to calculate what our theories of the early universe predict and test them against observations of the present universe.'

Altix UV meets COSMOS's requirements for high performance, scalable, big-memory supercomputing to facilitate vast amounts of data analysis. SGI is collaborating with COSMOS so that Altix UV, with its ease-of-use and rapid time-to-solution, begins contributing to research findings as quickly as possible. Collaboration efforts include: code porting to the Altix UV platform, applications knowledge transfers between SGI engineers and COSMOS users, parallel programmer support and end user training. SGI engineers will also provide dedicated support to COSMOS researchers in strategic projects, following the Altix UV installation.

At Stanford, the Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) is trying to understand the characteristics of the Sun's interior and the components of its magnetic activity to help forecast space weather. Here too researchers face a data management and analysis problem.

Every day an SDO satellite transmits 1.4 terabytes (TB) of raw data back to Earth for processing into high-definition images for study.  SDO has developed and deployed a hybrid Hierarchical Storage Management (HSM) system, which selectively archives key data for future retrieval and use.  This hybrid HSM greatly reduces the sets of tapes needed to mount and restore a specific event, such as a solar flare, recorded as part of this project's research.

'For the first time, scientists are able to view the dynamic nature of storms on the Sun.  The immense amount of data collected during our research requires a powerful HPC solution capable of ingesting and analysing data quickly and with precision,' said Phil Scherrer, principal investigator, Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager, Stanford University.  'SGI provides us with the computing and storage infrastructure to seamlessly accomplish our research and help us predict solar events.'

To manage this daily data influx, SDO's hybrid HSM utilises SGI high performance computing (HPC) server and storage products, including: SGI Altix XE 340 server cluster, SGI InfiniteStorage NAS 4550, SGI InfiniteStorage 10000 and Spectra Logic T950 tape library.  Together, these products provide three petabytes (PB) of total online and near-line storage, and are able to consolidate, process and quickly access satellite data to enable accurate predictions of space weather from solar activity.

At Cambridge, 'The new Altix UV system gives us a strategic advantage as we seek to advance the confrontation between fundamental and observational cosmology, especially using Planck satellite data,' said Professor Paul Shellard, director, COSMOS. 'This flexible, scalable and cost-effective architecture will ensure that COSMOS maintains international leadership.'