IBM, NTU forge deal to launch cloud platform for education

 IT solutions provider IBM and Nanyang Technological University are partnering up to introduce a new cloud platform that will provide the research community and students access to the university’s high-performance computing environment on an as-needed basis.

Singapore’s infocomm and communication technologies (ICT) masterplan for schools is now into its third phase (2009-2014), and continues the vision of the first two masterplans by developing better interactive environments to strengthen students' thinking, and upgrading schools' infrastructure to keep up with ICT developments. As such, it is opportune now to leverage advances in education technology – cloud computing, open source systems, virtualisation, and analytics – to help refresh outdated infrastructures with new functionalities.

In May 2010, NTU announced a collaborative effort with IBM to research and develop a platform for the convergence of cloud computing and HPC by leveraging NTU’s High Performance Computing Centre (HPCC), one of ASEAN’s fastest and greenest supercomputer-to-date. This HPC-as-a-Service on a cloud platform combines the strengths of cloud computing and HPC to establish a dynamic and high-performance infrastructure.

The researchers and students at NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media (SADM), and School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (SPMC) work on large-scale rendering, animation, molecular modelling and engineering simulation projects that are extremely compute and data intensive. It is essential that the compute resources and HPC clusters for these projects are provisioned and configured with the necessary operating system and software images on-demand, and with agility. This speed becomes even more critical during peak periods of project submission, when extensive demand within a short time period may limit accessibility to HPC clusters.

“This scenario makes SADM and SPMC excellent candidates for deriving immediate benefits from the HPC-Cloud environment,” said Professor Soh Yeng Chai, Associate Dean of College of Engineering, NTU. “Through the HPC-Cloud convergence, both faculty and students at the two schools will gain easy access to cloud-based HPC resources for their compute and data intensive projects on predefined virtual private clusters based on a self-service model. The added speed of provisioning HPC clusters will also mean that researchers can have access to their HPC clusters, and reconfigure if needed much more quickly than in the current system, thereby reducing their overall cycle time to complete a project.”

In time, this HPC-Cloud environment will provide capabilities and resources to meet high computational requirement for a wider pool of researchers and students at NTU. With the supercomputing capabilities offered through the HPC-as-a-Service platform, NTU will be able to enhance this platform for leading-edge research and innovation in interesting domains like analytics, modelling of volcanic activities to understand the earth’s tectonic movements, study of the water treatment processes, and the simulation of complex flight dynamics.
The new platform is also expected to facilitate cross-faculty research in future. “For example, earth science research involves professors from science, engineering, visualisation and animation,” Professor Soh noted. “For environmental and water technology research, expert knowledge from engineering, science and perhaps economics are required.”