IBM and Netherland's National Institute of Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) have agreed to collaborate and research the development of low-powered, exascale supercomputer systems. These systems will be used to analyze data collected by SKA that is an international consortium to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. ASTRON plans to have the telescope ready by 2024 and it will be used to explore evolving galaxies, dark matter and even the very origins of the universe.
The exascale computing system is estimated by IBM scientists to be roughly millions of times as powerful as our desktop computers. To put things in perspective, an average desktop computer has approximately 3,000 to 15,000 megaFLOPS (10 to the power of 6) of computing power. An exascale computing system is measured by exaFLOPS (10 to the power of 18) of computing power.
The low-powered, exascale computing cluster will be needed to collect, store and analyze exabytes amount of astronomical data from SKA on a daily basis. SKA is estimated to generate data that will fill 15 million 64GB iPods every day! In order to build such a high-performance and power-efficient computing system, IBM will investigate cutting edge technologies such as 3D stacked chips, optical interconnect technologies and nanophotonics. Plans for the location of the SKA are still to be finalized; with a decision expected this year (Australia and South Africa are countries in contention for the location of SKA where there is enough land for the installation of millions of antennas.)