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Supercomputer boosts research power, data support available at WKU facility

 

The computing power available at WKU is getting supersized at the High Performance Computing Center.

“The installation of the High Performance Computing Center and the Lost River Data Center in the WKU Center for Research and Development adds significantly to the value of this facility to the region and the state,” said Doug Rohrer, Associate Vice President for Research and Development at WKU and Executive Director of the Central Region Innovation and Commercialization Center. “Along with the resources of the other facilities located here, we can offer a powerful combination of research and data support tools to WKU, other universities and industries around the country.”

Dr. Claire Rinehart, (left) co-director of WKU's High Performance Computing Center, and Tony Perrella of PSCC Labs in Lake Forest, Calif., move one of the units during installation of a supercomputer at the Center for Research and Development. (WKU photo by Clinton Lewis)

WKU’s Ogden College of Science and Engineering received $2.379 million in 2009 from the U.S. Department of Education for the project. WKU provided an additional $50,000.

Earlier this month, representatives of PSCC Labs of Lake Forest, Calif., delivered and installed the nine racks of processors and other equipment that include 3,256 physical Intel cores, 3,256 virtual cores and 7,168 nvidia Tesla GPU cores providing a maximum performance of 55 terra flops.

What’s that mean? “If you compare this computer to a your laptop, this has about 7,000 times more computing power,” said Dr. Claire Rinehart, biology professor and director of Bioinformatics and Information Science Center.

The supercomputer's nine units of processors and equipment have about 7,000 times more computing power than a laptop. (WKU photo by Clinton Lewis)

The supercomputer’s power, data storage and network connectivity will enable WKU faculty, staff and students to conduct research projects that may have taken months of computing to complete on campus or that may have been conducted off site at other research facilities.

Dr. Rinehart and Dr. Rezaul Mahmood, associate professor in the Department of Geography and Geology and associate director of the Kentucky Mesonet and Kentucky Climate Center, serve as co-directors of the HPCC and have been working on the project for several years.

The HPCC’s mission is to support research and economic development, support WKU’s educational mission, develop a competitive workforce by training students on the latest technology, build intellectual capital by attracting and retaining faculty and staff, and foster public-private collaborations (including a partnership with Bowling Green Municipal Utilities at the Lost River Data Center).

Ogden College has utilized a smaller computing system for research projects, “but many of the departments needed this additional capacity,” Dr. Rinehart said.

The Kentucky Mesonet has been one of the driving forces in developing the HPCC, Dr. Mahmood said. The Mesonet collects real-time weather and climate data from a statewide network of stations and provides that information online.

However, Dr. Mahmood said WKU’s weather and climate researchers need additional computing power to use Mesonet data to produce experimental weather forecasts for Kentucky.

“Many of our weather and climate experiments cannot be done without this kind of supercomputing facility,” Dr. Mahmood said. “This type of infrastructure is critical and this kind of computational power enables us to do additional types of research.”

Among other research areas that will benefit from the supercomputer are chemistry, physics, astronomy, wound healing, ecological modeling, bioinformatics, biology, DNA sequencing and molecular biology.

The HPCC also has been designed with “green” technology and uses a software management system to reduce power consumption, Dr. Rinehart said. “From the beginning we were interested in developing the center to take advantage of high capacity but use less power,” he said.

Contact: Dr. Claire Rinehart at (270) 745-5997 or Dr. Rezaul Mahmood at (270) 745-5979.

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