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Ontario Center for Genomic Computing Upgrades Publicly Available Supercomputer

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The Ontario Center for Genomic Computing (OCGC) recently doubled its compute capacity under a partnership with SGI, the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and the Ontario Research and Development Challenge Fund.

The OCGC now boasts a 192-processor SGI Origin 3800 system with 178 GB RAM and 2.7 TB disk storage — the equivalent of over 4,000 desktop PCs, according to Jamie Cuticchia, who heads up the center.

The recent upgrade, representing a $25 million SGI deal with the Hospital for Sick Children, is just one piece of a long-term relationship SGI has had with the hospital and with the University of Toronto, said SGI biology market manager Juli Nash Moultray.

The hospital partly funded the acquisition with $8 million it got from the Ontario Research and Development Challenge Fund, which has committed up to $250 million to 63 research projects that promote innovation throughout Ontario. The fund plans to invest $75 million in genomic research over the next five years.

“The Ontario Center for Genomic Computing puts us on the map as a forward-thinking institution,” said Cuticchia. The OCGC, which claims to be the world’s largest publicly available computational supercomputer focused solely on biological research, offers independent research scientists with government grants free access to the computational platform through the Internet. Commercial users and users outside of Ontario may also have access on a cost-recovery basis, Cuticchia said.

The system also gives users a number of applications and services, including biological databases, bioinformatics training tools, and applications such as Blast, HT-Blast, Emboss, TM-Finder, and ClustalW.

Additional expansion of the center is expected over the next three years.

Cuticchia said the OCGC “spoke with every major vendor” before deciding to partner with SGI.

“We went with SGI based on the quality of its sales and support team in Canada as well as its record as a premier manufacturer of the fastest computers on the planet,” Cuticchia said. He noted that the SGI architecture is well suited for large shared memory tasks.

Moultray said that SGI is “looking aggressively at supercomputer facilities for post-genome work.” She said that the company is also working with the OCGC and Tripos on the development of high-end visualization tools for large data sets.

The OCGC is already almost fully utilized, Moultray said, and SGI has gotten “very good feedback” from users.

Cuticchia said the additional compute capacity would immediately benefit the work his group is doing on the annotation of human chromosome 7. “There are also several computational chemistry problems in Ontario that already are well ahead of schedule based on the upgrade,” he added.

— BT

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