Lord of the Rings Computers Turned Into Supercomputer-for-Hire
The New Zealand Supercomputing Centre, launched this week, has already attracted interest from potential clients in New York, says Telecom hosting and storage manager Eric Pilon.
The centre, a venture of Peter Jackson’s special effects studio, Weta Digital, and Telecom subsidiary Gen-i, has the largest supercomputing cluster available for commercial hire in the southern hemisphere, according to the companies.
It is ranked 80th on the list of the world’s 500 most powerful computers, the Dominion-Post reports.
The supercomputer itself comprises 504 IBM Blade servers, each of which contains two 2.8 gigahertz Intel Xeon processors, 6 gigabytes of memory and 40 gigabytes of storage.
Weta originally purchased the servers to create the special effects for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and together they are capable of performing 2.8 trillion calculations per second.
Mr Pilon said the centre would be marketed to customers in the US and Australia and in Britain and Asia “if required”.
“We are looking for cornerstone clients,” he said.
Plans for the supercomputer facility were first mooted in March, and Cullen Investments, owned by Auckland entrepreneur Eric Watson, sold the IT services firm Gen-i to Telecom for $62.5 million in June.
Gen-i group general manager Chris Quin was head of Telecom’s in-house information technology services arm Advanced Solutions when he drove Telecom’s takeover of Gen-i and Computerland for a combined price of $88.3 million.
He said the supercomputing centre was Gen-i’s first initiative since its acquisition by Telecom. Gen-i, which has 1250 staff, will market the service while Telecom itself will manage the communications infrastructure.
Weta and Gen-i have said they hope to upgrade the centre by adding extra servers to put it in the top 10 list of the world’s largest supercomputers.
Universities, research organisations and businesses will be able to access the supercomputer “on demand”, booking all or some of its processing capacity for as long as they need it.
The centre is expected to be used for tasks such as computer-aided engineering, economic and financial modelling and bioinformatics.
Mr Quin said the establishment of the New Zealand Supercomputing Centre was “a flag in the ground for New Zealand, putting the country at the forefront of supercomputing-based research and development”.
“The computing power at the NZSC will help advance local New Zealand research while also attracting world-class projects to New Zealand.”
The supercomputer is housed by Telecom in central Wellington, off Courtenay Place, and can be accessed from any of New Zealand’s main centres via dedicated “data pipes” carrying 1 gigabit per second, or via Telecom’s corporate intranet.
Telecom will also put in dedicated data lines to some cities overseas, probably including New York, so the supercomputer can be accessed easily by international customers.
Weta Digital is jointly owned by Peter Jackson and fellow directors Richard Taylor and Jamie Selkirk. Its spokesman for the supercomputer project, former chief technology officer Scott Houston, said expansion of the centre would create a bigger pool of processing power in Wellington that Weta Digital could potentially use for forthcoming film projects.