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Otago A Sun Microsystems Centre of Excellence

Thursday 24 July 2008

Otago becomes Sun Microsystems Centre of Excellence

The University of Otago has achieved a coup by becoming the first university outside of the United States to be selected as a Sun Microsystems OpenSPARC Centre of Excellence.

Sun Microsystems is one of the world’s most advanced computer vendors developing innovative products and services that power the network economy. Headquartered in the United States of America with a presence in over 100 countries, a significant part of Sun’s program is based on “open source leadership”, through the companies OpenSPARC initiative (Scalable Processor Architecture).

The initiative involves a large global network of researchers, programmers, engineers, technologists, industry representatives and Sun executives working on collaborative projects addressing the ever-increasing demand for more powerful computers. OpenSPARC focuses on the development of both hardware and software to meet rapidly-growing demand for computer chips containing multiple processors, known as multi-core.

Sun Microsystems has OpenSPARC Technology Centre of Excellence relationships with only seven universities worldwide; University of California, Santa Cruz; University of Texas, Austin; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Carnegie Mellon University; Stanford University; and now the University of Otago.

For Otago, the relationship is a prestigious recognition of the University’s expertise in computer architecture, networking and parallel computing. It also allows Otago access to the OpenSPARC community (including the other six universities) and access for staff and students to equipment and technical expertise.

Otago Computer Science researcher Dr Zhiyi Huang and Information Science Head Professor Martin Purvis are part of the Otago team working on several projects of interest to Sun Microsystems – the most high-profile being the Virtual Aggregated Processor, or VAP. VAP is based on building virtualisation software to utilise the power of the new generation multi-core computer chips.

Professor Purvis says the relationship is about more than prestige. “It also gives us a relationship with Sun’s research labs and opens doors to interact with the other universities.”

Dr Huang says his VAP work involves developing tools that will significantly reduce the burden on computer programmers of using the parallel programming techniques needed to harness the full potential of multi-core computers.

“Parallel programming has a long history but is very difficult. We are confident that VAP will be a New Zealand-led solution to help the computer industry manage the fundamental change of multi-core computers replacing the existing single core technology.”

Sun Microsystems New Zealand Country Manager John Mazenier says Sun is excited to partner with New Zealand’s most research intensive university, through the Centre of Excellence initiative. “We believe the alliance will not only draw upon the expertise demonstrated by Otago University but will also display the groundbreaking and innovative technologies and further promote Sun’s existing solutions.”

New Zealand Supercomputer Centre Business Development Manager Scott Houston says the Otago research is of interest to the Centre, which also has a relationship with Sun Microsystems, because of the commercial opportunities it presents.

“We build on-demand engines, which involve taking large problems, breaking them into processes and solving these problems using large numbers of computers. However, some computational problems cannot be ‘broken down’ or parallelized, such as climate modeling and human physiology.

“In those cases, you have to see the whole problem and we need to aggregate a large numbers of computers to address the problem as one system, the work the Otago team are doing addresses this.”


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