Currently under development, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will ultimately comprise an array of 3,000 individual radio telescopes.
According to ZDNet’s Nick Heath, the SKA will be tasked with gathering cosmic emissions in an attempt to “see” the universe a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, farther back in time than any telescope has (thus far) glimpsed.
“With the SKA we will be able to fill big gaps in our knowledge of the universe,” Albert-Jan Boonstra, the scientific director of ASTRON (the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy), told the publication.
Image Credit: IBM via ZDNet
“We’ll be able to map the so-called ‘dark ages,’ the epoch of re-ionization, when the stars and galaxies formed.”
As Heath notes, handling the 14 exabytes of data slated to be gathered by the dishes in South Africa and Australia will require processing power equal to several million of today’s fastest computers.
“A high-performance computing architecture with data transfer links that far exceed current state-of-the-art technology must be developed to gather, store and analyze the 13 billion year old data,” Heath explained.
That is why IBM and its partners at ASTRON recently showcased a number of potential machines for SKA, including what may very well be the world’s first water-cooled, 64-bit microserver.
“Not only is the microserver compact, able to be packed as tightly as DIMM memory, it is also very energy-efficient,” Heath continued. “The system uses hotwater cooling, where heat is drawn away by water piped to a copper plate coupled to the server’s system on a chip. This plate also delivers electrical power to the chip.”
The water-based system – based on the very same technology IBM developed for the SuperMUC supercomputer – is capable of keeping the processor below 85 degrees C. Each microserver sips about 60W of power to operate and keep cool, although IBM is currently eyeing power requirements of between 35W and 40W.
“The researchers are planning to pack 128 of the microserver boards, using the newest T4240 chips, into a 2U rack unit with 1536 cores and 3072 threads, with up to 6TB of DRAM,” added Heath. “When it goes live in 2024, the SKA will be the world’s most sensitive radio telescope, collecting a deluge of radio signals from deep space and storing one petabyte of data each day.”
Commenting on the above-mentioned specs, Loren Shalinsky, a Strategic Development Director at Rambus, noted that SKA illustrates just how far-reaching computing applications are in 2015 and beyond.
“It is fascinating to think that our smartphones and tablets pack more computing power and memory capability than the very first computers – which were so large they literally filled entire warehouses,” said Shalinsky.
“Following the contours of Moore’s Law, high performance computing (HPC) continues to push the boundaries of computing needs by helping scientists answer important questions; ranging from weather forecasting to aerodynamics and studying the aftermath of the Big Bang.”
What is perhaps most impressive about the proposed 64-bit microserver, says Shalinsky, is the integration of compute and memory capabilities, plus the fact that thousands of units can be linked together, with each microserver only utilizing a relatively low power level.
“We’re really talking about two major engineering feats. First, scientists will be gathering and storing a petabyte of data per day, which means that 14 exabytes of data will require about a 30-year period of time to gather, and therefore highlights the need for even higher performing compute and memory capabilities,” he concluded. “The processing capabilities needed to sort and analyze the raw information about our universe are particularly impressive for such a small form factor and only serves to further validate the need for Moore’s Law to continue.”
Interested in learning more? You can check out the official Square Kilometre Array (SKA) website here.