Australia's bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) over competitor South Africa will rely on the Federal Government's Regional Backbone Blackspots Program announced last year.
At least two of the telescope arrays that form part of Australia's bid for the global project are likely to utilise part of the 426km fibre run between Perth and Geraldton in Western Australia that was announced as part of the Blackspots program.
The link will ultimately connect to the Pawsey Centre high performance computing hub run by iVEC and hosted on CSIRO's Perth campus.
iVEC chief executive officer, Andrew Rohl, told Computerworld Australia that the computing hub expected to gain access to the fibre network once it was completed.
NextGen Networks managing director, Phil Sykes, confirmed that the fibre company was in negotiations with the relevant SKA organisations.
"At this stage, we are engaging with all potential off-takers of which those guys are an off-taker," he said. "I'm not prepared to disclose what sort of commercial agreements we might come to with any particular operator... we're just starting our engagements now."
Sykes was also open to the idea of completing the fibre link between Geraldton and the Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory at Boolardy in Western Australia; which will also require a fibre link to be part of the SKA.
"There's been no commitment to do so as yet," he said. "But the interesting thing there is we've now mobilised the biggest fibre design team in the country, so we're in a good position to be able to put very compelling offers on the table now to go extend networks out that way. We've already got all the contractors and plow teams running in the field, so it's something we could easily do."
AARNet chief executive officer, Chris Hancock, confirmed in a recent news update that the service provider would tender construction for the 320km fibre link between the remote locations for the CSIRO. The tender closed last month with aims to begin construction in May, though a supplier has not yet been named.
The relevant telescopes include the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) built by CSIRO and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) led by MIT Haystack Observatory, both located in the Murchison area. The telescope arrays will form part of the wider SKA with further telescopes situated around the continent.
CSIRO's Perth campus is connected to AARNet at 10 gigabits per second (Gbps). Peter Quinn, director of International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) - one of the parties involved in SKA research - said that CSIRO required a minimum 40Gbps bandwidth to transfer telescope data from the telescopes in the Murchison area to Perth. The ASKAP telescope had the potential to create as much as 150 Terabits per second (Tbps) worth of data but, with the help of computing facilities on site, this could be reduced to a manageable size for transfer to the Pawsey Centre.
Quinn said CSIRO desires to have 8Tbps of bandwidth between the two locations for the Australian SKA project.
According to Sykes, NextGen Networks would be able to supply as much bandwidth as necessary.
"We've put in place a 10Gbps system to start with over a single wavelength," he said. "We've engineered the actual fibre layout so we can also put in upgrades to 40Gbps systems and from there, you could just look at it as almost infinite capacity."
The $66 million Pawsey Centre will utilise $80 million in funding towards a new building at CSIRO in Perth and is looking to secure a $40 million supercomputer capable of petaflop-scale processing. It will also secure a Linux-based computing platform worth $5 million. The centre is expected to be completed in 2011 and fully operational by the second quarter of 2013.
NextGen Networks won the $250 million blackspot program bid in December of last year, and began building 6000km of fibre backhaul across eight key locations around Australia in February. The backhaul network will form part of the National Broadband Network when it is fully available, but NextGen Networks will also wholesale other parts of the network to additional parties on equal footing to the NBN.
"We are tasked with commercialising [the backhaul network] during the first 5 years and making it available to all off-takers on an equivalent basis," Sykes said.
The fibre company has already finished laying 620km of fibre around the country, and estimates the $25 million Geraldton link could be finished ahead of schedule, by February next year.
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