Grant to spur supercomputing network

More than 1,000 sophisticated computer processing units soon will be connected at five U.S. locations, including Indiana University (IU), creating a supercomputing network that will aid research requiring enormous data processing capacity for modeling and analyzing climate systems.

IT researchers at IU were chosen to head a four-year, $15 million project to design software that will allow supercomputers to connect and use massive processing that isn’t available to researchers today. The National Science Foundation will fund two-thirds of the project, known as FutureGrid. The remaining $5 million will be provided by outside project partners.

Indiana officials said the construction of a supercomputer grid also will be a boon for researchers and students on campuses that share the I-Light network, which has provided high-speed internet connections for businesses, government agencies, and Indiana schools such as Ball State University and Purdue University since 1999.

Both universities will be able to use the massive computing power of FutureGrid when it’s completed, said Dan Wheeler, vice president of IT at Indiana.

"Each type of supercomputer has a unique architecture and capabilities that make it ideal for certain types of uses," Wheeler said, adding that the grant money will allow for "formal experiments for the best ways to put all these computers together for researchers."

FutureGrid is expected to be operational by next spring.

Researchers and investigators from the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California San Diego, the University of Chicago/Argonne National Labs, the University of Florida, the University of Tennessee Knoxville, and the University of Virginia also will help develop the network.

FutureGrid is expected to build on the concept of cloud computing–taking computer storage away from the campus and tapping into more powerful sources elsewhere.

Cloud computer networks have gained traction at many colleges and universities within the past few years, as IT directors have looked for cost savings during an economic recession that has shrunk technology budgets.

"We envision the grids and clouds of the future not as a single system, but as many linked systems," said Geoffrey C. Fox, director of the Pervasive Technology Institute Digital Science Center and a professor at IU.

IT administrators on campuses that own supercomputers have trimmed their department’s energy costs by powering the advanced machines with low-voltage servers. An energy-thrifty supercomputer at the University of Buffalo saves the school about $150,000 every year, said Thomas Furlani, director the university’s Center for Computational Research. The low-voltage servers, he said, save enough power every year to power more than 100 American homes for an entire year.

The University of Maine unveiled the state’s first green supercomputer last October, drawing stark comparisons to mega-computers that are known to run up steep electricity bills and drain IT budgets.

The high-speed supercomputer, known as the SiCortex SC072 Personal Development System, has 72 processors that typically require 100 watts of power each. Maine’s SiCortex machine uses about 300 watts altogether–a savings of 6,900 watts over other supercomputers.

When the FutureGrid supercomputer network is completed, the extraordinary data processing is expected to allow for new drug discovery, DNA comparison and analyzing, and climate system modeling that will help researchers better understand complex weather patterns.

Technology officials said FutureGrid would be more advanced than the typical supercomputer, because it would allow researchers to use virtualization in their work, meaning they can run virtual computers with real, advanced hardware.


Indiana University

National Science Foundation

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