IBM to handle Big Bang data

Posted by Emma Woollacott

IBM is to take on one of the biggest information processing jobs imaginable - handling the data from the world's largest radio telescope in an attempt to explore the origins of the universe.

The DOME project will mean reading, analyzing and storing an exabyte of data every day, twice the internet's current daily traffic.

The five-year 32.9 million-Euro project for ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, is aimed at developing extremely fast, but low-power, exascale computer systems for the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope.

When it's completed in 2024, the SKA will be used to explore evolving galaxies, dark matter and the origins of the universe - but, says the team, it will need a high-performance computing architecture and data transfer links with a capacity way beyond current state-of-the-art technology.

"If you take the current global daily Internet traffic and multiply it by two, you are in the range of the data set that the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope will be collecting every day," says Ton Engbersen of IBM Research.

"This is Big Data Analytics to the extreme. With DOME we will embark on one of the most dataintensive science projects ever planned, which will eventually have much broader applications beyond radio astronomy research."

The team will investigate advanced accelerators and 3D stacked chips for more energy-efficient computing. They will also research new optical interconnect technologies and nanophotonics to optimize large data transfers, as well as high-performance storage systems based on next-generation tape systems and novel phase-change memory technologies.

The SKA will be 50 times more sensitive than any former radio device and more than 10,000 times faster than today’s instruments. It's expected to produce several exabytes of data per day for a single beam per one square kilometer. After processing, between 300 and 1500 petabytes of data will needneed to be stored per year.

The location of the SKA still hasn't been finalized, although a decision is expected this year. Australia and South Africa are the two candidates.