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Big Blue, Big Bang, Big Data: Telescope Funds Computing R&D

CNet (03/05/13) Stephen Shankland

IBM is attempting to advance supercomputing technology in processing, optical communications, and memory through an international initiative to study the Big Bang’s radio remnants using the Square Kilometer Array radio telescope.  Prior to the telescope’s construction start, IBM is working to devise the required computing technology through a five-year alliance with the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy.  The telescope will generate 14 exabytes of data daily, and this data must be refined into about 1/1000 its size for further processing.  Processing functions will be handled by IBM microservers, packed together densely and enhanced by hot-water cooling.  The microservers will communicate over a system data pathway that can accommodate 10-gigabit Ethernet links and support communications with disks, USB devices, and other system plug-ins.  IBM intends to use optical interconnects instead of copper wiring to transmit data to the processors.  The company also is exploring phase-change memory technology as the project’s data storage instrument, as it is faster and more durable than flash memory and is capable of storing data even when power is deactivated.  In addition, the project is probing the use of programmable accelerator chips specialized for extremely rapid performance on jobs such as pattern recognition, data filtering, or mathematical transformation.

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