IBM has prototyped a new software architecture for automating data management, potentially making it easier for researchers to collect usable information from mega-scale data collection projects like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) global telescope which aims to address unanswered questions about our universe.
Working with Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, a radio astronomer from Victoria University in Wellington, IBM constructed the Information Intensive Framework (IIF) prototype to automate key elements of the work currently undertaken manually by scientists. The software uses the International Virtual Observatory Association Ontology to classify collected data into concepts understood by astronomers and then provides intelligent ‘guided search’ functionality. This constrains searches to use only the information available within the system resulting in faster access and fewer errors.
Scheduled to begin construction in 2016 in either Australia /New Zealand or Southern Africa, the SKA will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. It has been estimated that the SKA will generate in excess of one Exabyte of raw data in a single day – more than the entire daily internet traffic. One of the central design challenges of the SKA project is how to process this huge volume of astronomical data and enable insights to be drawn from it.
This project represents continued investment by IBM in developing the technologies needed for SKA. In April this year, IBM announced a Shared University Research Award to Victoria University of Wellington to support SKA related research, following a similar grant to Auckland University of Technology in 2009. This compliments other IBM exploratory research activities conducted in Australia with CSIRO on digital processing for the Australia Square Kilometre Array Project (ASKAP) and with the International Centre of Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) on Data Intensive Research for the SKA over the past two years.