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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 March, 2005, 08:24 GMT
Rings computers ring the changes
Image from Van Helsing film, ILM
The centre still does some special effects work
The computers that brought Gollum, the Balrog and Middle Earth to life are now available to work for hire.

The computers used to create special effects for the Lord of the Rings films are becoming an on-demand processing centre.

The cluster of 1,008 computers in New Zealand can now be hired on a per hour, per processor basis.

Already the supercomputer is being used to design a super yacht and test gene sequencing algorithms.

Power hungry

The supercomputer-for-hire has been created from the cluster of computers brought together to make sure special effects for the third Lord of the Rings movie was finished on time.

Scott Houston, former technology chief at digital effects house Weta who runs the supercomputer facility, said that the experience of doing the movies had made the organisation experts in on-demand computer power.

The announcement about the opening of the supercomputer centre was made at the Cebit technology fair which is taking place from 10 to 16 March in Hanover.

He said the supercomputer centre was finding that increasing numbers of firms needed to be able to call on large amounts of computer power very quickly.

"It's very much a 'quick, we need this now' business," he said.

Mr Houston said although many firms had small numbers of computers, between 50 and 100, that they could call on for computationally-intensive tasks, they needed to go elsewhere to tackle the really big projects.

"I would doubt that many of these organisations have 1,000 processors that they can throw at a job," he said.

Already the first customers of the New Zealand supercomputer centre are using the concentration of processing power for a variety of jobs.

Still from original King Kong, AP
The supercomputer is helping with the remake of King Kong
The centre is already being used for such tasks as converting architectural drawings into virtual models that clients can walk through as well as refine the design of a 100' super yacht and test gene sequencing algorithms.

The cluster of computers is also still being used to do effects work for films. Most recently it has rendered scenes for I Robot, Van Helsing and the forthcoming King Kong film.

The supercomputer facility in Wellington is the largest for-hire facility in the Southern hemisphere and uses 1,008 Intel 2.8 Gigahertz Xeon processors sitting on 504 IBM dual Blade servers.

It can crunch through more than 2.8 trillion calculations per second - which means it is the 104th most powerful supercomputer on the planet.

Currently the New Zealand centre runs on Redhat 9 but Mr Houston said it was working on tools that will mean it can run almost any operating system.

He said the centre wanted to eventually provide customers with a simple interface that lets them log in, book the number of processors they want, submit their job and get back results when it is done.

Despite having links with New Zealand Telecom to provide fast links in and out of the supercomputer facility, sometimes customers have so much data to crunch through that it has to be sent separately.

"A big seismic analysis job might be 20 terabytes of data," said Mr Houston, "it's not feasible to send that so they'll send tapes or put it on a disk."

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