NZ uni christens Helix supercomputer

That New Zealand got a supercomputer up and running in November, just weeks after the parts arrived in New Zealand, is testimony to the number eight wire mentality.

So remarked environment minister Marion Hobbs at the official launch of Helix, Massey University's Beowulf cluster supercomputer, at the university's Albany campus yesterday.

In the same vein, university vice-chancellor Judith Kinnear said "it's remarkably cheeky for New Zealand to turn around and get a supercomputer that ranks in the top 500 in the world and have it available to staff and students".

While the official unveiling was this week, Helix has been in use since November and as well as Massey staff, users from Auckland and Otago universities have also been taking advantage of its 234-gigaflop speed.

Helix incorporates 132 AMD processors and runs on RedHat Linux 7.3. An early user has been Massey's Martin Johnson, who has used it for genetic programming, which lets the computer tweak and tailor applications, rather than have a human programmer do the task.

Compression and coding algorithms have been put to the test under that use of Helix and another user has been biomathematics PhD student Paul Gardner, who has used it for research into RNA (pre-DNA) organisms.

"On a desktop, it would have taken a little over a year," he says of the algorithm-running exercise he did on Helix.

Massey's parallel computing director, Chris Messom, says grid computing, which is being hyped by major vendors such as IBM, is something Massey seeks to utilise and offer via Helix.

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David Watson

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