Hewlett Packard Enterprise is on a mission to accelerate space research. In August, it sent the first commercial-off-the-shelf HPC system into space for testing aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and this week the company revealed Stephen Hawking’s Centre for Theoretical Cosmology (COSMOS) would be using one of its systems to probe deeper into the mysteries of the space and time.
On Tuesday, HPE and the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge announced COSMOS will leverage the new HPE Superdome Flex in-memory computing platform to process massive data sets that represent 14 billion years of history. The cosmologists are “searching for tiny signatures in huge datasets to find clues that will unlock the secrets of the early Universe and of black holes,” said Professor Hawking.
The HPE Superdome Flex, which HPE bills as the world’s most scalable and modular in-memory computing platform,” incorporates in-memory technology gained in the SGI acquisition. The Intel Skylake-based system is designed to scale from 4 to 32 sockets and supports 768 GB to 48 TB of shared memory in a single system. Although the exact configuration of the new supercomputer wasn’t disclosed, project leads say the shared-memory platform will enable the COSMOS group to process massive data sets much faster and will also ease the programming burden.
“In a fast-moving field we have the twofold challenge of analyzing larger data sets while matching their increasing precision with our theoretical models,” said Professor Paul Shellard, director of the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology and head of the COSMOS group in an official statement. “In-memory computing allows us to ingest all of this data and act on it immediately, trying out new ideas, new algorithms. It accelerates time to solution and equips us with a powerful tool to probe the big questions about the origin of our Universe.”
In order to expand and hone their scientific understanding of the cosmos, the team first forms theories about the nature of the universe, then creates precise simulations that are used to make predictions, and then tests those predictions against data from new sources, such as gravitational waves, the cosmic microwave background, and the distribution of stars and galaxies. A large in-memory computing system makes it possible to analyze the data through visualization and in real-time while the simulation is running.
More than 50 researchers will leverage the Cosmos system for a diverse range of fields. In addition to the COSMOS work, the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge will use the in-memory computer to solve problems ranging from environmental issues to medical imaging and even experimental biophysics, for example, using light-sheet microscopy to study the dynamics of early embryonic development.
“Curiosity is essential to being human,” said Hawking in a video describing the collaboration (see below). “From the dawn of humanity we’ve looked up at the stars and wondered about the Universe around us. My COSMOS group is working to understand how space and time work, from before the first trillion trillionth of a second after the big bang up to today, fourteen billion years later.”
Professor Hawking, who led the founding of the COSMOS supercomputing facility in 1997, was on the forefront of transforming cosmology from a largely speculative endeavor to a quantitative and predictive science. He concludes, “Without supercomputers, we would just be philosophers.”