Posted June 6: Celebrating SHARCNET's endless possibilities

By Julia Thomson, June 6, 2002

Representatives of the government, private sector, and the University came together Thursday (May 30) to celebrate SHARCNET (Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing Network), a network that brings together high-performance academic computers across southern Ontario.

Working in parallel, the primary computer clusters at the University of Western Ontario, the University of Guelph, and McMaster University, along with smaller development clusters at the University of Windsor, Wilfrid Laurier University, Sheridan College, and Fanshawe College, "give researchers the tools to perform high-speed calculations they only dream about" stated Greg Chappell, vice-president of Hewlett-Packard Canada.

The SHARCNET infrastructure enables forefront computational research in critical areas of science, engineering, medecine, and business.

A $42 million project, SHARCNET is "the greatest example of the kind of powerful partnership that can flourish among the industrial, academic and government sectors," explained Mamdouh Shoukri, vice-president research & international affairs.

David Bogart, executive director of the Ontario Innovation Trust, declared, "SHARCNET brings together the best scientific and research minds in Ontario."
In contrast to the past where individual groups applied for funding independently, SHARCNET is a multi-university, interdisciplinary institute partnership, which allows for the establishment of a world-leading site for High Power Computing (HPC).

Shoukri noted, "With the seven institutions involved in this partnership, it's incredible what we can accomplish by pooling our resources - not only our financial resources but our intellectual resources."

In November 2001, McMaster's super computers ranked 315th on the Top 500 List , a list of the 500 most powerful computer systems in the world. The other primary SHARCNET computers ranked 183 (University of Western Ontario) and 280 (University of Guelph). Respectively, the SHARCNET computers are the third, sixth, and ninth most powerful computer systems in Canada.

Peter Sutherland, dean of the Faculty of Science, explained that SHARCNET's "systems represent 27 per cent of all of the supercomputing power available in this country, and half of the supercomputing capability operated by universities in Canada. The possibilities that SHARCNET brings to research are endless."

Astrophysicist Hugh Couchman uses McMaster's SHARCNET computers to simulate galaxies in a cosmic three-dimensional environment in order to understand how they formed billions of years ago.

Sutherland stated, "Since coming to McMaster three years ago, Hugh has been instrumental in developing and enhancing McMaster's ever-growing reputation as a leader in supercomputing."

Couchman used to have to book time on British and German computers for his experiments, but with the creation of the SHARCNET, he can conduct his work here in Canada, instead of going abroad.

"Moreover, we can actually attract foreign researchers, as SHARCNET acts as a magnet for research excellence," noted Shoukri.

Erik Sorensen, the first chair appointed through the SHARCNET Research Chair Program, came to McMaster from the University of Toulouse in France. He describes himself as the "end result and the end user of SHARCNET."

Instead of the lengthy process of proposals, allocations, and scheduling he experienced working with many different computers on many different continents, Sorenson is able to easily access McMaster's Idra and Typhon computers.

The Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing Network has made its mark on the University since the province-wide launch in November 2001. "SHARCNET has already had a significant impact on the scope and scale of science here at McMaster and we envision that the facility will be a tremendous resource to the province and to the country," said Shoukri.

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PHOTO:David Bogart (left), executive director, Ontario Innovation Trust, presents a plaque from the OIT recognizing McMaster
University's contribution to advancing innovative research and discovery through the Shared Hierarchical Academic Research
Computing Network (SHARCNET). Mamdouh Shoukri (centre), vice-president, research & international relations and
Hugh Couchman, professor, physics & astronomy, receive the plaque on behalf of McMaster University.