SFU will build an $80 million upgraded supercomputing facility

The new system will allow for greater efficiency and processing

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This is a photo of the SFU supercomputer, Ceder. The computer takes up the entire room.
Photo Courtesy of SFU Research / X

By: Hailey Miller, Staff Writer

On June 3, SFU announced an $80 million supercomputer upgrade that will improve efficiency, data storage, and performance from its existing supercomputer, Cedar. The current supercomputing facility is one of the top 100 in the world and used for high-speed computations. It’s used by researchers across Canada and available for graduate students, faculty members, post-doctorate students, and undergraduate researchers at SFU — especially for their work in labs. The funds for this project were awarded to SFU by multiple donors, including the Digital Research Alliance of Canada and the BC Knowledge Development Fund through the Government of Canada.

“All of those researchers who currently use our existing supercomputer, Cedar, will suddenly have a lot more computing power,” said Dugan O’Neil, SFU vice-president of research and innovation in an interview with The Peak. 

Researchers who need to model their work will have access to a faster and more efficient system. For students involved in data collection, the capacity to process and analyze data will be faster. At this time, the computer is “not a tool that’s directly used in undergraduate teaching,” so it will not be available for undergraduate students to use in class. 

The new computer will be an upgrade to both Cedar’s hardware and software. The upgrades for hardware include traditional computing forms — CPU (central processing units) and GPU (graphics processing units) — and will also include optimal upgrades for “AI-based workflows.” O’Neil said the memory will be a huge improvement, along with more available storage, and overall efficiency. 

O’Neil explained that supercomputers “become obsolete” after a length of time, as technology is “constantly improving and changing.

“It really spans many different areas of knowledge,” he said. “The benefits are really broad-spread. So many people use computers of this type to analyze their data or to create new models right across all of the disciplines.” The computer can be used by many members of the science and research communities, including engineers, physicists, chemists, and those in both the social and health sciences.

 “It’s a big responsibility for the institution to provide that kind of capacity for the whole country.” — Dugan O’Neil, SFU vice-president of research and innovation

The computer will “take a while to build,” and won’t be available for at least another year. Once the time comes, users will “see their capacity to asking questions and solve problems go up, rather dramatically,” according to O’Neil.  

In order to initiate the upgrade process, a request for proposals has been implemented to “supply both the design and the components of the supercomputer.” From there, the computer will be “installed and tested.” O’Neil said they expect the computer should be “publically available” by next September and should last until at least 2030.

The site at SFU is “one of the largest data storage sites in any academic institution in the country.” The computing processor sites needed to process the data are also one of the largest in Canada, alongside the supercomputing facility being “one of only five” in the country.

With the new computer’s efficiency, the capacity for new ideas and data input to be analyzed and processed at much quicker speeds will allow for “a number of simultaneous users [ . . . ] to host a large number of people doing similar things.”

The overall power usage of supercomputing systems leads to a larger carbon footprint. However, since SFU is situated within a temperate climate, it allows for the system to “use less energy,” as hotter climates require more energy to cool down the computing systems.

O’Neil explained that SFU has “the most power-efficient data centre in the country.” This has granted the university a “highly-rated green data centre,” along with using BC Hydro’s renewable energy. Therefore, this allows for a smaller carbon footprint in comparison to other regions and climates.

“It’s a big responsibility for the institution to provide that kind of capacity for the whole country.”

To find out more about the computer, go to SFU’s website.

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