University of Queensland advances Windows cluster trial

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University of Queensland advances Windows cluster trial

University of Queensland is conducting tests on a number of research applications to potentially run on its Windows-based high performance cluster.

The cluster, which runs on Microsoft’s Windows Compute Cluster 2003 software and a HP BladeSystems architecture, was implemented in June as an easier-to-use alternative for researchers that did not have the technical background to work with the university’s other supercomputer resources, which run on a mix of SGI, Linux and Solaris platforms.

UQ has tested several high-end applications to run on the cluster, including the NetLogo, Comsol Multiphysics and Feflow FMH3 packages, according to the university’s director of Information Technology Services and AusCERT, Nick Tate.

“We’ve been identifying the good and bad things of using the different software packages in this environment and feeding that back into Microsoft,” Tate told iTNews.

He added: “We wanted to have a cluster environment that was easy for researchers to use, is easy to deploy applications to and see the results, and that we can run on commodity equipment. But that also means we need to find the right applications that can take reasonable advantage of the underlying systems.”

Tate said that much of the current testing centred on whether the application coding was optimised for parallel processing in a Microsoft-based environment.

“We’re finding programs that run faster in a clustered environment but in some cases not by a huge amount, because the code itself hasn’t been well parallelised,” explained Tate.

“Maybe later versions of those applications will be better. That’s part of the choice we have to make with applications.”

Current student projects to have run on the Windows cluster include a Ph.D gauging the impact of assumptions on the behaviour of economic markets, and modeling of groundwater flows.

Tate said that the system had been running ‘reasonably well’ and that the University would look to upgrade to the next release of Microsoft’s HPC offering due out next month.

Until the upgrade, the university will hold off on additional projects, such as the provision of capacity from the Windows cluster out onto the Australian Research Collaboration Service (ARCS) grid.

“We’re just running it in the background at the moment while we get ready to upgrade,” Tate said.

UQ sees the technology as a ‘promising element’ of its overall internal grid, which is also home to four existing supercomputers and a series of ‘light grid’ environments made up of lab PCs that can be harnessed for additional processing power.

“We’re trying to find a way to provide a supercomputing service that’s simpler to use to give a wider range of people access to the resources,” added Tate.

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