Computer Science Professor Ray Spiteri in a space in the Spinks Building that is being renovated into a new computing research centre for the U of S.
Photo by Colleen MacPherson
April 5, 2007
By Colleen MacPherson
Although the wheels grind slowly, the University of Saskatchewan remains on track to becoming the home of one of Canada's largest computer data storage facilities.
Late in 2006, the federal government announced about $2 million from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation’s National Platforms Fund will go to Saskatchewan universities for high-performance computing (HPC) equipment. According to Ray Spiteri, that money will be matched by the province, and in-kind vendor contributions of about $1 million will push the total amount available in Saskatchewan to about $5 million. Although the announcement is months old already, September 2007 is an "optimistic estimate of when the money will flow."
Spiteri, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and the University's representative on the HPC consortium WestGrid, said the University of Regina is expected to receive about $100,000 of the funding for a collaboration facility called an access grid node. The remainder will be dedicated to an access grid node at the U of S as well as a petabyte data storage facility.
A petabyte, he explained, equals one quadrillion bytes and comes after megabyte, gigabyte and terabyte in terms of size. A petabyte facility would be capable of storing, for example, the entire expected annual data output of the Canadian Light Source synchrotron when all beamlines are operating. Such a facility will "certainly be the biggest in western Canada, and no worse than second in the country."
The U of S is an appropriate location for such massive storage capability, Spiteri said, "because we tend to be data intensive here rather than computational intensive. This will be a great step forward for people who require significant amounts of data storage."
WestGrid, which is made up of western Canadian universities, is one of seven consortia representing 61 universities across the country. Spiteri said WestGrid is Canada's largest HPC consortium "in many measures, including the sheer number of researchers."
Budgets are now being finalized by each consortium, and an inter-institution agreement on resource sharing is being drafted by all the institutions involved, Spiteri said. But even before the agreement is finalized, "we are preparing."
Facilities Management Division (FMD) and Information Technology Services (ITS) have identified the University Services Building as the site for the main storage facility, he said, and equipment purchases are being co-ordinated with other WestGrid major storage providers – the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University.
Spiteri said WestGrid is "also deep into characterizing the needs of researchers" for data storage. This can range from fast access, intermediate access or archived data, with each requiring different kinds of hardware.
He added he is working with U of S researchers to assess storage needs but access will not be limited to WestGrid members. "In theory, the facility can be accessed from anywhere across the country but geographic proximity is an advantage."
Plans for the storage facility are coinciding with planning for an international HPC symposium to be hosted by the U of S May 13-16. Some 150 academics as well as government and industry representatives from around the world are expected to attend to discuss HPC as a research tool, and to consider the latest developments in hardware and software to support HPC.