IBM has partnered with the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (Astron) to develop high-speed but low-powered “exascale” computers that will meet the enormous demands of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.
The four-year deal will lead to the development of computer systems capable of handling the enormous amounts of data the SKA will produce, along with algorithms to help deal with it. It’s estimated that the SKA’s dishes will collect 10 times the global traffic of the Internet in data, and its central computer will have the processing power of a hundred million PCs. An exascale computer is one capable of handling more than a quintillion processing instructions per second.
Current computer systems do not offer the power required to process the quantities of data the SKA will collect. In order to try to deal with this challenge, Astron and IBM last year launched a public-private partnership called Dome — named after the protective covers for telescopes and the Swiss mountain, Dom.
Dome includes a wide range of organisations investigating emerging technologies such as high-performance and energy-efficient computing, nanophotonics (how light behaves at the nanometre scale) and data streaming. In addition to the SKA project, it’s hoped some of Dome’s findings will be able to assist in other data projects such as climate change and genetics research.
According to IBM, the benefits of the research will be felt well beyond the confines of the SKA and should usher in what it calls the “era of cognitive systems”. IBM envisions computer systems that can learn from existing data and adapt their algorithms to better contend with new data.