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IBM Space Science

IBM Designing Superman Servers For World's Largest Telescope 67

Posted by Soulskill
from the batman-servers-were-too-melancholy dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "How's this for a daunting task? By 2017, IBM must develop low-power microservers that can handle 10 times the traffic of today's Internet — and resist blowing desert sands, to boot. Sound impossible? Hopefully not. Those are the design parameters of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Project, the world's largest radio telescope, located in South Africa and Australia amid some of the world's most rugged terrain. It will be up to the SKA-specific business unit of South Africa's National Research Foundation, IBM, and ASTON (also known as the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy) to jointly design the servers. Scientists from all three organizations will collaborate remotely and at the newly established ASTRON & IBM Center for Exascale Technology in Drenthe, the Netherlands. By peering into the furthest regions of space, the SKA project hopes to glimpse 'back in time,' where the radio waves from some of the earliest moments of the universe — before stars were formed — are still detectable. The hardware is powerful enough to pick up an airport radar on a planet 50 light-years away, according to the SKA team."
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IBM Designing Superman Servers For World's Largest Telescope

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  • 26 petabytes? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bloodhawk (813939) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @07:29PM (#43154375)
    Is internet traffic really only 26 Petabytes a month, while that is a big number it sounds awefully low to me as the place I work does 15 Terabytes a month and they are little more than a miniscule pimple on face of the internet.
    • by iYk6 (1425255)

      Agreed. There are roughly 100 million internet enabled households in the United States. If each of these sent and received, on average, 1GB per month, that's 100 PB.

      • by bloodhawk (813939)
        I would seriously doubt where I work even ranks in the top 10,000 internet content providers by volume, yet the article would suggest they would have to be one of the top providers for there numbers to be true.
    • by c0lo (1497653)

      that is a big number it sounds awefully low to me

      Well, it is actually low. E.g. the entire cloud fits a single server on a cable modem (true, with lots of caching). You ask for citations? Here you go [xkcd.com]

    • by scheme (19778)

      Is internet traffic really only 26 Petabytes a month, while that is a big number it sounds awefully low to me as the place I work does 15 Terabytes a month and they are little more than a miniscule pimple on face of the internet.

      That's just wrong. Open Science Grid transfers about 1.4PB [iu.edu] a day and I seriously doubt OSG uses a significant fraction of the bandwidth on the net.

  • Wow! How is this possible given that the intensity of radio waves diminish at a factor equal to the square of the distance? That's some powerful radar or a darned big capture area of the antenna here on earth. How is it distinguishable from CBR.

    • by stanlyb (1839382)
      Where? On the earth, in the empty space?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    they'll just do what they did with NCSA and decide they can't make money doing it and walk away.

  • Is this the machine that lets us see our lives 9 months in the future?
  • The impressive part of the blurb to me was the ability to detect something like an airport radar on a planet 50 light-years away. With that sensitivity I would think this could go a long way towards SETI, nevermind background radiation.
    • Re:sensitive (Score:5, Insightful)

      by femtobyte (710429) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @08:38PM (#43154895)

      One big obstacle is, as with SETI, not merely gathering super-sensitive data, but processing all the data to identify E.T.'s air traffic control in trillions of other (natural) radio sources. Just because you're sensitive enough to tell whether a signal is present or absent *when you know exactly what to look for* doesn't mean you'll be able to identify previously unknown signals.

  • by Frans Faase (648933) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @09:08PM (#43155127) Homepage
    ASTRON is the organisation that is also running LOFAR [wikipedia.org], which is basically a smaller version of SKA in a different frequency range. It is an interferometric array which requires a central system to process all the signals into one result. LOFAR is using a lot of dedicated hardware and a IBM Blue Gene/L supercomputer for this purpose. Because all the signals are digitized at the receivers, this result is a very large stream of data, which are processed (but not stored) by a pipe-line of processors, each combining more and more signals, into one final image.
    • by broekema (1025095)
      The Blue Gene/L was replaced by a Blue Gene/P in 2008. It is interesting to see that, at the beginning of the project, the most powerful supercomputer in Europe (for abour a month or so) was required. Now, only a few years later, more work can be done using only a few servers with accelerators. The SKA will ofcourse be a whole different challenge, which requires a completely different way of thinking about computing.
  • I'll pick a Batman server over a Superman server every time.

  • So they’ll be putting the servers indoors then?

  • Since when did "Superman" become a good adjective for describing powerful computer systems? I mean, if you must appeal to the hardcore comic book reading geek, wouldn't Brainiac be a better choice?
  • by hamster_nz (656572) on Wednesday March 13, 2013 @04:22AM (#43157167)

    This link [av.it.pt] is a really interesting info on some of the SKA signal processing.

    The SAK's power budget is 58MW for signal processing - this is such a high running cost that by spending 30 Million Euro on developing a few custom ASICs to halve that power usage will pay off in 9 months!

    • by tibit (1762298)

      Very informative. While it's a cool project, in a way I'm fine only dealing with distributed signal processing that can power a dozen nodes through one PoE ethernet drop :)

  • Maybe then we'll be able to see Apollo mission hardware on the moon :|

Do you suffer painful illumination? -- Isaac Newton, "Optics"

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