It traces the shape of star systems millions of miles away, magnifies the inner workings of the tiny molecules in prescription drugs, and can perform billions of calculations per second.

It’s a high-speed supercomputer grid that’s being assembled by a group of mostly Southern universities–starting with Georgia State University in Atlanta and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Texas A&M will join the list by the fall, and eventually, 24 colleges in 15 states will be connected through the network. The project was announced earlier this month.

The network will provide access to lightning-fast computing capabilities and opportunities to do joint research projects on the grid.

“The old model used to be that every researcher got his own computer,” said Art Vandenberg, director of advanced campus services at Georgia State. “But by partnering, we create a fabric we can all get to.”

For Georgia State, the grid quadruples researchers’ computing power, allowing scientists to run in a week computer simulations that once would have taken a month. At its peak, the network reportedly will be able to perform 10 trillion calculations per second, which reportedly would take a person with a calculator about 8 million years to perform.

Georgia State’s supercomputer alone has the power of nearly 1,000 desktop computers.

The equipment for the grid is being provided by IBM, which sold the processors, wires, and other pieces to each college at a deeply discounted rate. Georgia State paid $585,000 for a computer that would have cost more than $2 million, Vandenberg said.

The project is spearheaded by the Southeastern Universities Research Association (SURA), which began creating the network–called SURAgrid–three years ago. The addition of the supercomputers doubles the grid’s capabilities.

“This is the internet equivalent of a 100-lane highway,” said Greg Kubiak, director of relations and communications for SURA.

He said the grid will help with the association’s Coastal Ocean Observing and Prediction program, which examines ways to predict storm surge after hurricanes.

Louisiana State has had its supercomputer set up for several months, and Georgia State’s was expected to be set up by the end of August.

Vandenberg said he hopes to have researchers running applications on the computer by that time.

Gabrielle Allen, assistant director for computing applications at Louisiana State’s center for computation and technology, said the grid puts Southern universities on the computing map.

“For the Southeast, which traditionally hasn’t been a big player in computer technology so much or in using supercomputers … it provides the basic computer resources we need to go to advanced computation here,” Allen said.


Southeastern Universities Research Association