IBM nets SKA contract worth €32.9 million

IBM and ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, have announced an initial 32.9 million Euro, five-year collaboration to research extremely fast, but low-power exascale computer systems, targeted for the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

South Africa and Australia are bidding to host the core site for the mega radio telescope.

Scientists from both organisations will collaborate at the newly established ASTRON and IBM Center for Exascale Technology in Drenthe, the Netherlands.

ASTRON is one of the leading scientific partners in the international consortium that is developing the SKA. Upon completion in 2024, the telescope will be used to explore evolving galaxies, dark matter and even the very origins of the universe – dating back more than 13 billion years.

Scientists estimate that the processing power required to operate the telescope will be equal to several millions of today’s fastest computers.

The next generation of large scientific instruments, of which the SKA is a key example, requires a high-performance computing architecture and data transfer links with a capacity that far exceeds current state-of-the-art technology.

ASTRON and IBM scientists in the Netherlands and Switzerland have launched an initial five-year collaboration called DOME, named for the protective cover on telescopes and the famous Swiss mountain.

DOME will investigate emerging technologies for large-scale and efficient exascale computing, data transport and storage processes, and streaming analytics that will be required to read, store and analyze all the raw data that will be collected daily.

IBM has collaborated previously with ASTRON on the design, engineering and manufacturing of customized, high-performance, low-power analogue and mixed signal processing chips for a SKA prototype system.

The SKA will be 50 times more sensitive than any former radio device, and more than 10,000 times faster than today’s instruments.

The SKA is expected to produce a few exabytes of data per day for a single beam, per one square kilometre. After processing this data, the expectation is that, per year, between 300 and 1500 petabytes of data need to be stored.

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IBM nets SKA contract worth €32.9 million