Managing thousands of terabytes
The radio telescope arrays being developed by scientists and engineers around the world will generate enormous volumes of data far beyond the capabilities of today's computing technology.
Research Professor Andreas Wicenec is faced with the challenge of transmitting, storing and processing the data captured by the proposed arrays of antennas.
An eight-hour survey of the sky can generate terabytes of data, which must then be sent to Perth via high capacity networks. Efficient, reliable storage systems are needed to ensure the data is protected and accessible. Andreas and his team must also design the processing systems needed to work with and make sense of the information.
"There is no point in building a radio telescope of this size if we don't have the information systems to interpret what it captures."
I'm leading the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) program of ICRAR. This includes four main projects:
I'm also supervising a PhD student working on ultra-scale visualisation and two internship students working on archive infrastructure projects. All the projects and students are bound in to the ICT effort to support ICRAR's scientists getting the best out of their data.
I guess the landing on the moon in 1969 and all the stuff NASA did at the time really brought me into astronomy. I bought my first telescope at the age of 13 and just went on into a professional career in astronomy from there. Very similarly I started with computer stuff maybe at the age of 15 and more seriously with 17 learning my first computer language. When starting my diploma thesis in astronomy, the knowledge I'd gathered up to that point in the computing area turned out to be very valuable: I got involved in the data reduction of the HIPPARCOS satellite and that was the right mixture between IT and science for me.
ICRAR's scientists will require vast amounts of compute power in order to be able to reduce and scientifically exploit the enormous amounts of data collected by ASKAP and the MWA. In addition ICRAR has a strong group of scientists performing large scale astrophysical simulations.
The ICT program provides HPC, database and general IT expertise and carries out R&D projects to support ICRAR scientists. This includes requirement gathering to advise iVEC in the planning and procurement of the various stages of the Pawsey supercomputing centre as well as R&D projects in database, storage and high performance computing in collaboration with various international partners and groups.
We also have a strong educational component supervising PhD and internship students and working together with all universities in Perth to establish computer science courses with more emphasis on supercomputing and the SKA.
ASKAP and the SKA are not just amazing astrophysical instruments, but also pose enormous challenges in data flow, data management and processing. It is exactly this mixture of astronomy and IT which is the niche I always liked to work in and being able to contribute to the SKA is really exciting. Apart from that Australia and Perth in particular indeed is a great place to live.
I've been working for the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) for 13 years. I was involved in the design and implementation of various parts of the ESO science archive system and I've been leading the ALMA archive development team for about 8 years.
Talking to astronomers about their research and trying to suggest and implement novel or improved ways to extract or visualise the key points of scientific interest. Being an astronomer myself, this obviously includes my own projects.
Two main highlights for me are:
Not alone! We need to get help from vendors and computer and network manufacturers, but also from software experts. Apart from very specialised simulations, astronomy was never so close to the cutting edge of High Performance Computing. With the SKA we are challenging the whole IT world, plus some other industries, like power production and power grid providers. There are quite a number of smaller and bigger challenges to be tackled and thus we will need to establish collaborations in many areas, without losing the focus on the science goals. After all the, SKA is supposed to produce great science using ICT, not the other way around...