IBM Tapped to Handle Radio Telescope Data


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Upon completion, the Square Kilometre Array will be the largest radio telescope on Earth, and will allow scientists to explore the furthest reaches of the universe, and take a look back some 13 billion years. Still, the SKA won't be completed until 2024, with construction taking place in either Australia or South Africa, starting in 2016. The physical construction is one thing - researchers have been concerned about providing an infrastructure to handle the extraordinary amount of data the array will produce daily - double that of the daily output of the entire internet. IBM has been called upon to develop a solution, and have been prompted to design for the future.

Once in place, the millions of antennas that will comprise the massive SKA will be producing an exabyte of information for process each day. According to IBM, a days worth of web traffic over the entire internet equates to about half an exabyte of data, which is 500,000 terabytes. Storage for this level of information is also an issue - it is expected that the SKA will produce 300 to 1,500 petabytes of data a year. The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator, produces only 15 petabytes per year.

At present, IBM has no set solution for this sort of processing and data-storage demand. So, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON), which is part of an international group behind the SKA, has signed a five-year $32.9 million deal with the company to commence developing technology for the future.

"Specifically, scientists at ASTRON and IBM will investigate advanced accelerators and 3D stacked chips for more energy-efficient computing. They will also research novel optical interconnect technologies and nanophotonics to optimize large data transfers, as well as high-performance storage systems based on next-generation tape systems and novel phase-change memory technologies," according to IBM.

Whatever IBM comes up with, the solution will likely be the first of its kind. Though IBM is adept at adapting its technology, as its Jeopardy-winning supercomputer Watson has been recently leased out to Wall Street.