International Square Kilometre Array  (Source:
The idea is to develop fast, but low-power exascale computer systems for the international Square Kilometre Array

IBM has partnered with ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, for a five-year, 32.9 million euro ($43.8 million USD) venture to develop efficient exascale computer systems for the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

ASTRON is one of the top developers of SKA, which is an international consortium to create the world's largest, ultra-sensitive radio telescope. The new SKA telescope is estimated to be completed in 2024, and will explore dark matter, evolving galaxies and even the origins of the universe. IBM said the amount of processing power needed for the telescope to function will be several millions of today's fastest and most powerful computers.

To reach that amount of computing power, the new SKA telescope will need technology and data transfer links that reaches far beyond what is available today. At the same time, it's important for SKA's exascale computer systems to be fast, yet low-power. To achieve these goals, ASTRON has agreed to collaborate with IBM for five years and 32.9 million euro ($43.8 million USD).

The partnership, which is called DOME to reflect the famous Swiss mountain as well as the cover on telescopes, aims to research technologies capable of handling exascale computing, storage processes and data transport on a large scale, but that is also energy efficient. More specifically, IBM and ASTRON will look into advanced accelerators and 3D stacked chips as well as new optical interconnect technologies and nanophotonics for both efficient computing and large data transfers. As far as storage goes, revolutionary tape systems and phase-change memory tech will be researched.

"If you take the current global daily Internet traffic and multiply it by two, you are in the range of the data set that the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope will be collecting every day," said Ton Engbersen of IBM Research. "This is Big Data Analytics to the extreme. With DOME, we will embark on one of the most dataintensive science projects ever planned, which will eventually have much broader applications beyond radio astronomy research."

Between ASTRON's experience with SKA and IBM's research and methodologies regarding realistic, yet powerful and efficient computer systems, the DOME partnership is expected to make the new SKA telescope a reality. DOME received funding from the Netherlands, the Province of Drenthe, and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation.

"Large research infrastructures like the SKA require extremely powerful computer systems to process all the data," said Marco de Vos, Managing Director of ASTRON. "The only acceptable way to build and operate these systems is to dramatically reduce their power consumption. DOME gives us unique opportunities to try out new approaches in Green Supercomputing. This will be beneficial for society at large as well."

Source: IBM

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