Engineering the Future with High Performance Computing

In 1992, High Performance Computing (HPC) was recognised as a major tool in engineering and scientific circles. It was also an important source of industrial competitiveness in USA, Canada, Europe and Asian economies, but not in Australia.

This project was designed to stimulate awareness, interest and participation in the use of HPC in Australian industry, commerce and government.  The project gained the support of a number of technology providers, researchers and users of the technology.

Specifically, the objectives of the project were to:

  • show Australian managers and engineers what HPC could do to solve real, critical problems
  • show how advanced techniques such as visualisation and the use of networks could provide convenient ways to access facilities, collaborate in problem solving and communicate results, and
  • demystify supercomputers

Specialists from a number of disciplines using collaborative visualisation in problem solving. Images courtesy: SGI.

REAL HPC APPLICATIONS

The project team created an impressive array of supercomputing and workstation equipment and access, centred in the Faculty of Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Sydney. These facilities were used by nine case study teams comprising more than fifty Project Fellows who worked to demonstrate HPC applications to real life situations. The case studies covered:

  • Automobile crash test simulation
  • Optimised designs of railway bogies
  • Continuous casting of steel process analysis
  • Modeling power station furnace operations
  • Air pollution modeling
  • Oceanographic and river quality studies
  • Extending transport storage life of horticultural produce
  • Visualisation of drought effects on Queensland pastures
  • Visualisation of diverse data on mining projects.

Each case study was documented in the volume of technical papers and in a video segment, and these, plus applications, the published report, technical papers and the large community of project participants, all raised awareness of the benefits of HPC during and beyond the life of the project.

The project concluded with a well-attended public lecture by Professor McRae, which was followed in April 1994 by a seminar in Sydney on the theme ìHigh Performance Computing and Communications – Charting a Course for Australia.î This seminar helped maintain the attention of influential researchers, policy makers and industrial interests on HPC development.

Specialists from a number of disciplines using collaborative visualisation in problem solving. Images courtesy: SGI.

GUIDELINES FOR THE FUTURE

The SGI Reality Centre displays the interaction between SGI high performance computers and real-time visual images.


The project identified a number of barriers that needed to be overcome to develop effective use of HPC in Australia, including:

  • Widespread ignorance of the benefits of HPC and the misconception that the technology was not applicable to most Australian industry;
  • Weaknesses in University programs in computational science and engineering necessary to equip the graduates to effectively utilise HPC;
  • Weak links between Australian Universities and their industrial constituencies;
  • Poor communications infrastructure to support collaboration between industry and education/research institutions.

To overcome the barriers outlined above and provide guidelines for the future use of HPC, the project recommended that Australian industry, governments and institutions should provide:

  • Leadership and direction, through an appropriate forum where industry, government and relevant institutions could set directions and priorities for HPC development
  • A coordinated approach to curriculum development and education in computational science and engineering HPC access sites, that is, a network of facilities where industry and government could be encouraged to bring their problems and people for advice, coaching, training and application trials at minimum cost
  • Investment in network infrastructure for access and collaboration among and between the expanding industry and institutional HPC communities.

LONG-TERM OUTCOMES ADVANCE FRONTIERS

The High Performance Computing project produced many high level outcomes and post-project developments. Among them:

  • The Prime Minister at the time, Paul Keating, was so impressed with the project he directed his education and industry ministers to develop support and funding programs to promote HPC. The incoming Howard Government followed through on these initiatives and allocated funds for education and research support and for technology diffusion of HPC. In 1997 the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs called for proposals for a NATIONAL centre of expertise in high performance computing and communications
  • The Australian Partnership For Advanced Computing (APAC), was established by the Commonwealth Government in 1999, to ensure Australia entered the ranks of the top ten countries in terms of its adoption/application of HPC
  • In 2000 the New South Wales Government provided $12 million over three years which, together with $3 million from eight leading universities, helped establish the Australian Centre For Advanced Computing And Communications (ac3). This was a high performance computing facility capable of supporting the New South Wales education and research community and accessible to both public and private enterprises. ac3 is the New South Wales state partner in the national APAC network
  • As a consequence of the steel casting case study, BHP Research Newcastle acquired a Cray computer. Since then, complex simulations and better control, both facilitated by the high performance computer, have extended blast furnace life by many years

In a general sense the project stimulated the high performance computer equipment vendors to focus additional resources on capturing the opportunities in Australia and thus spread awareness of the benefits of HPC.

While some manufacturing and design businesses have moved offshore new HPC applications have emerged in what has become a services dominated economy. The challenge of managing an international financial system of unprecedented complexity ranks alongside environmental and societal data mining applications as compelling applications for HPC in today’s world, and these are the fields where advanced computing centres are extending the frontier of our ability to understand and manage the world around us.

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