Foreward to "Supercomputing with Linux" by Emeritus Professor David Beanland, AO, FTSE, FIEAust
Our era has been defined by the ever-increasing scale and performance of information technology and its impact on many facets of society. Information technology has been made possible by the rapid, and continuing, development of semiconductor technology which enables high speed electronic processing and storage of data. These advances have continued unabated over more than six decades, enabling the realisation of computers with increasing speeds, sophistication and capability to facilitate the solution of complex problems of larger scale, more rapidly and with increased detail. Our society is now dependent upon the availability of the increasingly massive computing capability which is available to researchers for the exploration of the frontiers of knowledge, with the consequent provision to society of the benefits of their expertise.
The journey which universities and their researchers undertook, as computer technology developed, is complex. It commenced with computers being utilised for administrative functions and relatively simple calculations. The availability of the world-wide web, and its communication networks of increasing capacity, enabled computers to greatly enhance their functionality. AARNeT (the Australian Academic Research Network) commenced in 1989, progressively interconnecting universities in Australia and linking them to the network created in USA, which was destined to become a global network. It was the pioneering founder of the now all-pervasive web in Australia.
While universities could acquire small/medium computers (which progressively increased in capability) for their local utilisation, very large computers for complex research problems were quite expensive. Australia’s first "super-computer" was shared between CSIRO and ANU. When the network capacity and coverage increased, it became clear that it was in the national interest for the Commonwealth government to fund a larger computing facility that could be utilised for research by staff of all the universities and CSIRO. This topic was the subject of a government organised workshop, with extensive participation, which led to the creation of APAC, the Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing in 1998. I was invited by the Department of Education to Chair APAC and to facilitate the development of a new national research computing service for Australian Universities and CSIRO, with a new larger computer located at ANU providing this service. I continued in this role until 2005.
It became apparent that many research staff in Victorian universities, whose projects required large scale computing resources, but which could not gain access to the national facility, would be better served by a local computer facility. I raised this issue at a VVCC (Victorian Vice-Chancellors Committee) meeting and six universities indicated that they would wish to participate in a co-operative facility. Thus the Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing, VPAC was formed in 1999 and I was also requested to be its initial chair. Financial commitment was subsequently given by RMIT, Melbourne, Swinburne, Monash, Latrobe and Deakin Universities to enable the purchase of a suitable computer, to establish facilities and to employ support staff. RMIT had an excellent visualisation system and adjacent space in Building 91 which provided a convenient location for VPAC. The focus was on academic, scientific and industrial problems and Dr Bill Applebe was selected as the first CEO. In an exciting period of computer technology development, VPAC facilitated the rapid growth of computer technology applications to the diverse research problems being explored by university staff in Victoria. This book explores these important, complex and rapidly developing technologies, to assist researchers in this field. It will contribute to the continuation of the development of this central, and widely applicable, field of technological endeavour as it progresses into the next phase of its realisation and impact.
Emeritus Professor David Beanland, AO, FTSE, FIEAust
Foundation Vice-Chancellor RMIT University