CSIRO to mesh Azure Cloud with HPC infrastructure

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has announced plans to integrate Microsoft’s Windows Azure Cloud with its high performance computing (HPC) infrastructure.

CSIRO eResearch director, Dr John Taylor, told Computerworld Australia that the collaboration is “very recent”, with CSIRO still trying to figure out how to best utilise the Azure Cloud.

Taylor said that the organisation is currently working out how to use Azure Cloud to support its computed tomography (CT) reconstruction code. This software #8212; containing reconstructions of a large number of 3D images from different sciences, including biology, geosciences, material sciences, medical research, and plant and insect phenomics #8212; has been chosen as the initial application to be tested.

In addition, Taylor said Azure could provide a platform for CSIRO to build virtual labs that will enable scientists within CSIRO and Australia #8212; with plans to expand internationally #8212; to work together online and have quick access to the same software, tools and data resources.

“Instead of having to chase around and ask their colleagues what they’ve got, what tools they might have, what data they might have, we’ll make it all available in the Cloud and potentially build international laboratories based on this Cloud infrastructure,” he said.

According to Taylor, employing Cloud-based infrastructure will offer the CSIRO access to greater speed and storage.

“A single desktop computer’s quite slow compared to these large clusters that can run thousands or tens of thousands of times faster than an individual desktop computer,” Taylor said.

“That’s because we have about a thousand cores in our GPU cluster compared to a few cores on a desktop machine and we also have about a hundred thousand CUDA cores in the GPUs that are in that GPU cluster.

“There’s an enormous amount of computing capacity in those clusters. Then when we go to the Cloud, potentially there are even more cores and computing capacity available to us.”

When asked about the possibility of a security breach, Taylor said it is possible but that most organisations would be prepared for such an event.

“I think security is always an issue with running a computer system that’s in the Cloud,” he said.

“I think everyone’s aware that security is potentially an issue that’s going forward and so everyone, I think all of the vendors that are offering these types of services are very mindful of those sorts of issues and are working hard to deal with them.

“And initially, obviously we won’t be putting at risk any sort of significant IP or resources in this initial test until we’re confident that the security is adequate.”

CSIRO’s GPU supercomputer was recently found to be the second fastest supercomputer in the world to run Windows.

“I think there’s a total of four Australian systems on the Top500 list,” Taylor said.

“I think that’s a good sign. At one point we had almost no entries in the Top500 list and this technology is really becoming essential… many industries are now adopting high performance computing.”

Follow Diana Nguyen on Twitter: @diananguyen9

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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