ICHEC News -- Issue 1 :: October 2006

HPC news & information from the Irish Centre for High-End Computing





:: Useful HPC Resources

Web-based HPC resources of note


TOP 500 Supercomputer Sites

IBM Deep Computing

Bull High Performance Computing (HPC) solutions

Linux High Performance Computing


What is ICHEC?

The Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) delivers essential high-performance computing resources to Ireland's scientific community, with financial assistance from Science Foundation Ireland and the PRTLI project CosmoGrid. ICHEC Walton and Hamilton clusters allow researchers across a range of disciplines to run massively parallel calculations and simulations, enabling investigations of a size and scale previously not possible in Ireland. The Centre and its small support staff devote as much of their time and resources as possible to developing a nationwide community of researchers skilled in HPC methods, for the long-term improvement of Ireland's competitive position in world-class science.

:: HPC Events

See www.hpcwire.com for a complete list

HPC User Forum
October 26-27
Manchester, United Kingdom

SC06 - Powerful Beyond Imagination
November 11-17
Tampa, FL

November 28 - December 1
Sydney, Australia

ISPA 2006
December 1-4
Sorrento, Italy

International Conference on e-Science and Grid Technologies
December 4-6

HiPC 2006
December 18-21
Bangalore, India

ICDCN 2006
December 27-30
Guwahati, India

:: Join ICHEC News

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:: Welcome to ICHEC News

Luke Drury, Acting Director, ICHECWelcome to Issue 1 of ICHEC News, the periodical dedicated to bringing researchers and institutions up to date with the latest high-performance computing news from Ireland. Having gone through an astonishingly rapid initial establishment phase under the determined and committed leadership of Dr Andy Shearer, ICHEC is now in a consolidation phase following the establishment of the full national service this summer and the international advertisement of the position of Director. Our aim is to establish ICHEC on a long-term basis as an integral and essential part of the national e-infrastructure.

At ICHEC we are humbled and pleased by the range of over one hundred fascinating projects currently using ICHEC's services, two of which we highlight in this newsletter, and would like to pay tribute to the professionalism of ICHEC Technical Manager Dr J-C Desplat and his team in enabling this impressive performance. If any of you have views on ICHEC's services, or how you think it should develop, please do feel free to contact us - we are committed to responding to user needs, but we need your feedback and advice.

Luke Drury, Acting Director, ICHEC


ICHEC to appoint new director: We're pleased to announce that the recruiting process for a new full-time director for ICHEC is proceeding well, with interviews now ongoing. The new director, expected to take office in early 2007, will be responsible for all aspects of the management, operation and development of the Centre, building on its strong past record and central values of facilitating world-class computational science and supporting new and experienced HPC users. We will keep all our users and the wider ICHEC community apprised of further developments as they happen.

Marie-Christine Sawley, CSCS SwitzerlandTowards a coherent HPC ecosystem -- a national debate: ICHEC is delighted to host a one-day forum at the Royal Irish Academy on 20 October, featuring two highly distinguished figures from the international HPC community. Prof. Martyn Guest from the Daresbury Laboratory in the UK and CEO Marie-Christine Sawley (pictured) of CSCS in Switzerland join us to speak on key topics including the national HPC ecosystem -- specifically, balancing the need for investment among a range of resources, from smaller systems to capability-level. Drawing upon more than 20 years' experience in the field, both speakers will also comment on the issue of how to develop a capability computing resource nationwide, to facilitate truly world-class science. Brief presentations will be followed by an open panel discussion with attendees.

ICHEC leadership comes together: the ICHEC Oversight Board held its inaugural meeting in Dublin on 6th October. Members of the Board include Prof. Martyn Guest of the Daresbury Laboratory, UK; Prof. Richard Catlow, University College London; Professor David Fegan, Royal Irish Academy/UCD; Mr Sean Baker, Iona Ltd; Dr Dennis Jennings, 4th Level Ventures; Prof. Luke Drury with Dr. Andy Shearer and J-C Desplat.

Consortium support helps researchers move forward: Despite a reduction in staff levels, the ICHEC consortium support team has done extensive work since the commencement of the national service, collaborating with researchers to prepare their projects to run on ICHEC's HPC systems. The support team, which includes Niall Moran, Tim Stitt and Honore Tapamo, works on a practical level with researchers new to HPC, helping optimise their code to fully utilise distributed memory and shared memory clusters. "It's incredibly important to have people like Niall available to us," said Dr. Mary Hearne, a DCU researcher specialising in natural language processing, who worked with the consortium support team to parallelise her code. "Established users who've been using HPC for quite awhile have built up their own level of experience, but we are new to these methods. HPC is going to be huge in our area, because machine learning techniques are essential to processing and learning from large quantities of linguistic data. The support team was essential to help us make the most of the ICHEC resources."

ICHEC will continue to make consortium support services available to as many researchers as possible, resources permitting. For more information contact ICHEC Technical Manager Dr. J.-C. Desplat at j-c.desplat_at_ichec.ie.


Walton breaks into the top half of the Top 500
The capacity of Walton, our shared memory cluster, has improved by more than 10% following systems optimisation activity, raising the system's capacity from 2.79 to 3.142 TeraFlops. This is a significant performance improvement and would place ICHEC at 250th place in the current Top 500 Supercomputers benchmark list, up from number 345. "This is a major achievement in terms of our resources, because it allows the entire ICHEC community to get much better value for money from the existing investment," said JC Desplat, Technical Manager for ICHEC.

System Utilisation August 2006
Both Hamilton and Walton achieved availability and serviceability levels of 96.9% and above during August. Utilisation is now approaching 90-95%

Utilisation Graph

For more information on ICHEC systems and resources, see the monthly reports posted online at www.ichec.ie/reports.


ICHEC takes seriously its role as a training organisation designed to teach HPC methods and project design to new generations of researchers. ICHEC commenced training courses around the country in March, 2006, supported by two dedicated trainers. Funding issues have meant a reduction in support staff, but we remain committed to supporting our user community and are delighted to announce that we resumed training this month with an Introduction to HPC and MPI at University College Dublin. Details of future courses will be available at www.ichec.ie/training

Have you taken a course with ICHEC? If so, please take the time to fill out a feedback form, if you haven't already done so. Your comments are invaluable as we seek to develop as robust a training program as possible with our current limited resources.


Simulating Seismic Wave Propagation on Volcanoes: towards a better understanding of magma and gas movement at depth

Prof Chris Bean, Dr Gareth O' Brien, Mr Ivan Lokmer (PhD Student)
Geophysics Group, University College Dublin

Simulated seismic wave propagation on Mt EtnaDeveloping a better understanding of volcanic activity that may be predictive of eruption offers obvious benefits to society. But detailed study of the audible seismic signals that emanate from volcanoes has traditionally been hampered, in part because the signals are distorted by the kilometres of uneven rock they travel through before researchers can record the signals at the surface. For the first time, an international team led by UCD is usefully addressing the distortion problem by using HPC to model wave propagation through uneven topography. Researchers then apply their insights to actual surface data recorded at Mount Etna, and effectively "remove" the distortion, dramatically improving the clarity of the seismic signals.

"We're very pleased that our work has attracted a tremendous amount of attention on the world stage," said Professor Chris Bean. "One of our colleagues in New Mexico has even offered to get us cycles at Los Alamos for our computation if we'd like, but we've been able to do all our simulations here at home. If it weren't for ICHEC, what we're doing would quite literally be impossible in Ireland."

In focus: Topological phases in quantum lattice systems

Jiri Vala, PhD, Department of Mathematical Physics, National University of Ireland at Maynooth

Quantum loop gas on a lattice is a promising candidate for realisation of topological phasesQuantum computing holds the promise of some of the most exciting breakthroughs in the coming generation, including unprecedented insights into the workings of nanotechnology, and strategic developments of information security. But commercial quantum computers are still years away from development, partly because these systems are notoriously fragile. It is in principle possible to build a quantum computer, but a key challenge is to create one which is fault-tolerant, and can perform calculations reliably, without being affected by factors like stray particles or electromagnetic fields.

Methods are being investigated to create a fault-tolerant quantum computer, and a field of research offering real promise is topological quantum computing. A quantum system in a so-called "topological phase" could be tremendously valuable, since systems in this state are naturally fault-tolerant.

The grand challenge of topological quantum computation is to identify or create a quantum system which is in topological phase. A team of researchers led by NUI Maynooth is investigating this area with the help of ICHEC. "We need ICHEC resources to perform the computational experiments that will let us see if some of the promising systems exhibit the signatures of topological phases," said Dr. Jiri Vala, head of the research team. "These are calculations that could never be performed without supercomputers."