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        Challenges for e-Research in Australia

        9th December, 2022
        The Supercloud Team

        Australia is at a tipping point for data-intensive research here are the key challenges that we need to overcome to safeguard the sector’s future.

        Accelerated and specialised computing technologies have become essential to research today, with GPU computing and deep learning being behind many of the world’s most recent and transformative scientific breakthroughs.

        Despite Australia being well-known for its scientific contributions, our current infrastructure is beginning to fall behind our international peers due to the reliance on outdated technologies, impacting both the functionality and performance of our research sector. While researchers have access to more data than ever before, our current infrastructure is often unable to support the in-depth analysis required to find the meaning hidden within this data.

        This is compounded by recent shifts in Australia’s research & development funding structure prioritising work with practical and/or commercial outcomes at the expense of discovery and fundamental research – the areas which most often lead to world-changing discoveries.

        The Australian research sector is at a tipping point, and in order to safeguard the future of this industry and remain competitive with our international peers it is imperative that our researchers have access to the leading technology that will enable them to unlock the full potential of their data-intensive research.

        Firmus’ Supercloud provides a solution to some of the challenges this industry is facing, working with researchers to ensure that Australia remains at the forefront of research and development.

        Challenge 1: Availability of the latest GPUs

        Much of Australia’s research is dependent on the availability of Graphical Processing Units, or GPUs, which enable researchers to perform specialised computations in parallel and save weeks if not months of time in data processing.

        GPU technology is continually being improved, but the rate of improvements makes it difficult for researchers to keep up, as they are unable to obtain the latest generation offerings due to availability or reduced funding. While there are plans to add more GPU capacity to Australia’s research infrastructure, this is not an easy task and may take years to implement.

        By partnering with NVIDIA, Supercloud gives researchers in-country access to the latest generation of GPUs as they are released by NVIDIA, enabling researchers with high-security requirements access to this technology. These GPUs are hosted virtually on Supercloud’s servers and are always kept up to date, so researchers can be sure that their data is always being efficiently processed.

        Challenge 2 – Maintaining or optimising code for newer GPUs

        While access to the latest GPU hardware is integral for data-intensive research, the speed and efficiency at which this hardware can operate are dependent on updated software. It is therefore crucial that GPU codes and models are kept up to date to ensure optimum performance and function.  

        This can be a significant challenge for researchers, as refactoring code takes both time and technical expertise and designing architecture and software for modern GPUs is not straightforward. This is an even greater problem for research projects that are making the jump from CPU to GPU, as this requires a fundamental restructuring of their existing systems.

        For example, the latest NVIDIA GPUs support Multi-Instance GPU which allows for more efficient utilisation of GPUs through secure partitioning for multiple applications. This is a wonderful technology with an infinite amount of applications, but it cannot be used without the libraries, software, and knowledge needed to expose its capabilities.

        Supercloud’s service includes access to experienced solutions architects who can advise researchers on code optimisation for the latest GPUs, alongside integrated profiling and development tools for GPU code optimisation, such as Nsight.

        Challenge 3: Cooling

        The increase in cooling requirements to run and maintain the accelerated compute that is integral to research continues to grow, with cooling systems accounting for up to 40% of a data centre’s total energy usage.

        The traditional air-cooling approaches currently used by Australia’s data centres are insufficient and outdated for the demands of data-intensive research and the latest-generation GPUs. The inefficiencies in these cooling approaches are in turn having a significant environmental impact, with the high electricity consumption of legacy data centres being one of the leading causes of CO2 emissions within the tech industry.

        Unfortunately, with hundreds of millions of dollars already invested in legacy data centres, it is often not financially viable for these data centres to move to more energy-efficient immersion cooling.

        Supercloud’s data centres are designed and purpose-built for immersion cooling, with the immersive fluid being 1000x more efficient than air at removing heat, significantly lowering energy consumption and carbon emissions. The Supercloud data centre is powered by Tasmania’s renewable energy supply – so the energy that is consumed is nearly carbon-free.

        Challenge 4: Lack of cost-effective access to commercial-grade infrastructure-as-a-service

        Commercial service-level agreements and security accreditations are not available through Australia’s current research infrastructure, and while small or low-risk research projects may be able to tolerate sub-optimal system reliability and security, large, sensitive, or high-risk research programs cannot.

        While hyperscale commercial providers do offer reliable and secure solutions for researchers, projects can often suffer from scalability issues due to the limited capacity or increasing costs of the provider.

        Supercloud offers the same service-level agreements as the big cloud providers at approximately half the cost, with the inclusion of ongoing access to senior solutions architects.

         The Australian research sector is at a tipping point, with researchers across the country challenged by the availability and accessibility of latest-generation GPU hardware and software, the significant environmental impact of legacy data centres, and a lack of cost-effective access to commercial-grade infrastructure-as-a-service. 

        If you’re a researcher facing these challenges and looking for a solution, feel free to contact Supercloud to learn how we can help.

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