NIWA invests $18 million  in New Zealand’s future

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NIWA is placing the future of New Zealanders at the heart of its operation by investing in new supercomputers that will significantly enhance scientists’ abilities to solve crucial issues facing the country.

NIWA Chief Executive John Morgan today welcomed Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith’s announcement that New Zealand’s supercomputing capabilities are being upgraded.

“This is one of the most significant investments in science in this country, and it will benefit all New Zealanders,” Mr Morgan said.

Benefitting farming and other industries

NIWA today signed an agreement with Seattle-based global supercomputer leader Cray to purchase the new supercomputers on behalf of the partners involved in the New Zealand eScience Infrastructure (NeSI).

“NIWA is investing $18 million in the new supercomputer capability which will enable our scientists—including the largest team of weather and climate scientists in the country—to provide better information on hugely important issues such as how climate change will affect New Zealand. The ability of the new supercomputers to process vast amounts of data in very short spaces of time will also enable us to build more precise forecasting tools to help farmers and environmental managers make more informed decisions using the best information available.

“Industries that are weather-sensitive—such as the energy sector, farming, horticulture and tourism—will benefit directly from NIWA’s ability to make more accurate and more specific forecasts. The new supercomputers will also allow NIWA to improve early warnings of the effects of severe events, such as flooding and storm surge”, Mr Morgan said.

The agreement is for three supercomputers that each offer different capabilities.

Two will be situated in the High Performance Computing Facility at NIWA’s Greta Point campus in Wellington. One of these—the Cray XC50—has a theoretical peak performance equivalent to 1.4 trillion calculations per second. It will replace FitzRoy, NIWA’s current IBM supercomputer, which has reached the end of its operating life and cannot keep up with demand.

The second, a Cray CS400, is being procured on behalf of the Universities of Auckland and Otago and Landcare Research through an additional $4.8M of investment, and will replace Pan, currently based at Auckland University.

The third supercomputer will be housed at the University of Auckland’s Tamaki Data Centre and will act as a back-up system for NIWA.

Better forecasting faster

The Cray XC50 is one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world for scientific calculations. The New Zealand eScience Infrastructure (NeSI) will use the Cray XC50 and its companion Cray CS400 to provide research services that will enable New Zealand scientists to conduct leading-edge research on the environment and climate simulation, as well as computational chemistry, engineering, data analytics and biomedical research among other scientific disciplines.

“More accurate forecasts of the natural environment are essential to the future growth and resilience of New Zealand’s important industries like farming, horticulture, and the infrastructure and renewable energy sectors,” Mr Morgan said.

The supercomputers will improve scientists’ ability to forecast the impacts of severe weather events such as flooding, storm surge and inundation. They will also be used to model climate change, river flow, ocean levels and wave patterns, to help the country better prepare for the future.

How fast?

Together, the new supercomputers have up to 13 times the computing capability and more than six times the storage capacity of their predecessors. The replacement for FitzRoy has a theoretical peak performance of 1.425 PetaFLOPS—equivalent to 1.425 trillion calculations per second.

Altogether, the new supercomputers will provide more than 33,500 compute cores—equivalent to about 16,000 laptops—and enough storage to hold 3 million DVDs online and 8 million DVDs offline. 

They collectively weigh a not-insignificant 23 tonnes, but those 16,000 laptops would weigh nearly 40 tonnes! They are also significantly more energy efficient, and will use only about two-thirds of the electricity of NIWA’s current supercomputer, and they will also occupy less space.

“To have access to such an incredibly high-powered supercomputers vastly boosts NIWA’s capabilities and is a huge step forward for New Zealand science,” Mr Morgan said.