IBM Taking 'Big Data' Analysis to New Heights with SKA Telescope Project

By Beecher Tuttle April 11, 2012

For years, IBM has touted its ability to help enterprises analyze big data. In a veiled attempt to prove its worth in this area, the computing giant has announced its intent to join a five-year research project called DOME to help develop exascale computer systems for what will soon become the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope.

Scheduled to be completed in 2024, the international Square Kilometer Array (SKA) telescope will generate approximately 1 exabyte of data per day, twice the amount that the global Internet produces in an average 24-hour span.

“This is Big Data Analytics to the extreme,” says IBM researcher Ton Engbersen. “With DOME we will embark on one of the most data-intensive science projects ever planned, which will eventually have much broader applications beyond radio astronomy research.”

Scientists from IBM will collaborate with the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON), one of the leading scientific partners in an international consortium that is developing the SKA telescope. The two organizations have quite a challenge ahead of them as the computing power and data transfer links necessary to collect and analyze the space data far outweigh current technologies.

The hundreds of thousands of antenna systems that will comprise the SKA will require processing power equal to several million of the world’s fastest computers, says IBM. The cost of such a project would be unfeasible with current technologies.

“The only acceptable way to build and operate these systems is to dramatically reduce their power consumption,” added Marco de Vos, managing director of ASTRON. “DOME gives us unique opportunities to try out new approaches in Green Supercomputing. This will be beneficial for society at large as well.”

To create these powerful, low-energy computer systems, IBM and ASTRON will look to expand the capabilities of advanced accelerators and 3D stacked chips as well as optical interconnect and nanophotonics technologies. The two organizations will also develop next-generation tape systems and phase-change memory technologies to store the troves of data generated from the telescope.

Once completed, the SKA will be capable of collecting information covering a more than 3000-km-wide area. IBM says that the telescope will be powerful enough to explore the “very origins of the universe - dating back more than 13 billion years.”

Edited by Jennifer Russell

TechZone360 Contributor

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