Visit additional Tabor Communication Publications
October 08, 2009
Can Islamic Law, supercomputers, and a co-ed university peacefully coexist? That's what Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) will soon find out. The new high-tech research center was inaugurated last month in a highly publicized ceremony in the Islamic kingdom.
KAUST, located on the Red Sea 50 miles north of Jeddah, encompasses an international university, a graduate research institution, and a supercomputing center. This is not just any research center. According our interview last year with Majid Al-Ghaslan, KAUST's interim chief information officer, a multi-billion dollar fund has been established by the government to keep the university extremely well-fed.
HPC-wise, KAUST will house "Shaheen," a 16-rack IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer that serves as the centerpiece for the institution's HPC capability. At 222 peak teraflops it is the most powerful computer in the Middle East and currently sits at number 14 on the TOP500 list. As such, KAUST is part of a larger government strategy to use Saudi Arabia's oil wealth to modernize the country and help create a knowledge-based economy.
Given the conservative nature of Saudi society, the co-ed nature of the university was bound to be the most controversial aspect. According to an LA Times report: The institution breaks a number of the Islamic kingdom’s social taboos, including allowing men and women to mix freely in classes and not forcing women to wear veils. In all other Saudi universities, women and men are taught separately and male professors lecture to female students via video link."
A couple weeks after the grand opening, senior Muslim cleric Sheikh Saad Al-Shethri publicly criticized the KAUST's policy of allowing men and women to attend classes together. Declared al-Shethri: "Mixing is a great sin and a great evil." Perhaps the cleric forgot who the institution was named after. Shortly after his comment became public, King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch, "relieved" Al-Shethri of his duties on the government-backed Council of Religious Scholars. Remember, no separation of church and state here.
That skirmish may only be a prelude to a wider conflict between conservative Saudis and the government. The KAUST supercomputer will support scientific research in areas such as energy studies, environmental science, biosciences/bioengineering; nanotechnology, materials science/engineering, applied mathematics and computational science. Some of this will undoubtedly go to support the Saudi oil & gas industry, but other areas are aimed at more basic research that may end up at odds with Islamic teachings.
More importantly, KAUST is an international center, made up mostly of researchers and companies from non-Muslim nations -- the US, France, Germany, Singapore, China, to name just a few. Currently, only about 15 percent of the university's students are Saudi-born. And according to an AP report, 14 of the 71 faculty members are from the US. No doubt Saudi xenophobes aren't going to like this.
I've received a few comments from readers who are worried what Saudi Arabia might do with all this high-end HPC technology and research muscle being assembled at KAUST. I think that concern is misplaced. Right now the most liberalizing force in the kingdom is the Saudi monarchy, who seemed determined to bring the country into the 21st century and be a part of the world community. We should be cheering them on.
Posted by Michael Feldman - October 08, 2009 @ 4:46 PM, Pacific Daylight Time
Michael Feldman is the editor of HPCwire.
No Recent Blog Comments
Large-scale, worldwide scientific initiatives rely on some cloud-based system to both coordinate efforts and manage computational efforts at peak times that cannot be contained within the combined in-house HPC resources. Last week at Google I/O, Brookhaven National Lab’s Sergey Panitkin discussed the role of the Google Compute Engine in providing computational support to ATLAS, a detector of high-energy particles at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
The Xeon Phi coprocessor might be the new kid on the high performance block, but out of all first-rate kickers of the Intel tires, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) got the first real jab with its new top ten Stampede system.We talk with the center's Karl Schultz about the challenges of programming for Phi--but more specifically, the optimization...
Although Horst Simon was named Deputy Director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, he maintains his strong ties to the scientific computing community as an editor of the TOP500 list and as an invited speaker at conferences.
May 16, 2013 |
When it comes to cloud, long distances mean unacceptably high latencies. Researchers from the University of Bonn in Germany examined those latency issues of doing CFD modeling in the cloud by utilizing a common CFD and its utilization in HPC instance types including both CPU and GPU cores of Amazon EC2.
May 15, 2013 |
Supercomputers at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) have worked on important computational problems such as collapse of the atomic state, the optimization of chemical catalysts, and now modeling popping bubbles.
May 10, 2013 |
Program provides cash awards up to $10,000 for the best open-source end-user applications deployed on 100G network.
May 09, 2013 |
The Japanese government has revealed its plans to best its previous K Computer efforts with what they hope will be the first exascale system...
May 08, 2013 |
For engineers looking to leverage high-performance computing, the accessibility of a cloud-based approach is a powerful draw, but there are costs that may not be readily apparent.
05/10/2013 | Cleversafe, Cray, DDN, NetApp, & Panasas | From Wall Street to Hollywood, drug discovery to homeland security, companies and organizations of all sizes and stripes are coming face to face with the challenges – and opportunities – afforded by Big Data. Before anyone can utilize these extraordinary data repositories, however, they must first harness and manage their data stores, and do so utilizing technologies that underscore affordability, security, and scalability.
04/15/2013 | Bull | “50% of HPC users say their largest jobs scale to 120 cores or less.” How about yours? Are your codes ready to take advantage of today’s and tomorrow’s ultra-parallel HPC systems? Download this White Paper by Analysts Intersect360 Research to see what Bull and Intel’s Center for Excellence in Parallel Programming can do for your codes.
In this demonstration of SGI DMF ZeroWatt disk solution, Dr. Eng Lim Goh, SGI CTO, discusses a function of SGI DMF software to reduce costs and power consumption in an exascale (Big Data) storage datacenter.
The Cray CS300-AC cluster supercomputer offers energy efficient, air-cooled design based on modular, industry-standard platforms featuring the latest processor and network technologies and a wide range of datacenter cooling requirements.