Calgary keeps pace with high performance computer
13 February 2001

CALGARY ­ The Compaq Alpha Cluster high performance computer at the University of Calgary is being upgraded this week to 172 processors, which could boost it into the ranks of the world’s top 500 super computers.

“The upgrade of the super computer at the University of Calgary is a necessary step to ensure researchers at the University of Calgary remain at the forefront of innovation and discovery in advanced computing,” says Keith Archer, Interim Vice-President (Research). “This high-tech infrastructure, provided through a partnership between Alberta universities, the federal and Alberta governments, and industry, is a key element in our strategy to recruit and retain leading faculty and graduate students at the University of Calgary. This investment further builds upon our strategic thrust in the area of information and communication technologies, and has applications in a wide variety of areas of interest to Albertans, from health to energy research. This research infrastructure will help Albertans develop the knowledge-based economy of tomorrow.”

The Alpha Cluster was first purchased over two years ago as part of the MACI (Multimedia Advanced Computational Infrastructure) project and has been upgraded several times. Other MACI resources at the U of C include virtual reality and visualization equipment, large-format 2D and 3D printers, 3D scanners, and high-end video conferencing resources. These resources are available for all researchers at the University of Calgary through

The Cluster is connected to another 190-processor computational resource at the University of Alberta via NeteraNet, Alberta’s high-speed research network. MACI has become a prototype for a new generation of research computing grids.

“The combination of networking and computing provides high performance computation and information storage that is accessible by any researcher connected to NeteraNet," explains Dr Brian Unger, the University of Calgary principal investigator for MACI. "This information processing power supports previously unsolvable problems in climate prediction, sports medicine visualization, computational chemistry, and space physics.”

MACI is designed to establish resources at Alberta’s universities for computation, multimedia and visualization. It is funded by the Alberta Intellectual Infrastructure Partnership Program, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and university and industry partners.

Mary Anne Moser, MACI Communications, tel (403) 949-3306
Andrew Wark, University of Calgary Communications, tel (403) 220-5727

Australis Arrives:
MACI Acquires New SGI Origin 3400Sean Hartigan
CNS Client Services
19 December 2000

A new MACI-funded supercomputer has moved into the General Services Building. A state-of-the-art SGI Origin 3400, nicknamed Australis, arrived on December 19, and has taken its place next to the Aurora and Borealis supercomputers already residing there.

Ron Senda, Group Leader of CNS's Research Support Group, says the Origin 3400 represents a significant technological improvement over the older 2000 and 2400 models. Communication speeds between individual nodes are double those in Borealis, an Origin 2400. "Depending on the problem the user is trying to solve, this will cause some programs to run significantly faster," says Senda. "Anyone who has code bottle-necked by interprocessor communications will find the new machine a real pleasure to use."

"In a way, this is a replacement for Aurora," he says, noting that advances in technology and scientific research are currently making supercomputers obsolete in about three years. "The problems just keep getting more complex," Senda says. "In order to have their simulations more accurately replicate reality, researchers keep increasing the size of their problems." But he emphasizes that the older machines are still very usable. "Aurora will still be useful for smaller problems," he says.

Australis currently contains sixteen 400 Mhz MIPS R12000 processors. It has four gigabytes of RAM, eighteen gigabytes of disk space, and will run SGI's flavor of Unix, IRIX 6.5. MACI already has plans to upgrade the new machine. In the next year, Australis will be upgraded to an Origin 3800 with 64 processors, 32 gigabytes of RAM, and 2.1 terabytes of disk space.

Dr. Jonathan Schaeffer, a Principle Investigator for the MACI project and Professor in the Department of Computing Science, agrees that Australis is an exciting addition to the University's array of computing resources. "We're excited about building a world-class computing center here in Edmonton," says Schaeffer. "Our original vision was to have 128 processors here, and now we're looking at having 176, which is 48 for Aurora and 64 each for Borealis and Australis." CNS staff expect the new supercomputer to be fully operational by the end of January.

Like its predecessors, Australis is part of the on-going MACI (Multimedia Advanced Computational Infrastructure) collaboration. MACI is a combined effort of the Universities of Alberta, Calgary, and Lethbridge, the federal and provincial governments, business partners, and individual researchers to create a world-class computational infrastructure in Alberta.

For more information about Australis or the MACI collaboration, e-mail or see the CNS Research Computing home page at: