UT Partners With TACC for HPC Expansion

By Nicole Hemsoth

May 5, 2006

The University of Texas System Board of Regents has taken steps to significantly expand world-class research programs and increase external funding of research at its institutions by establishing a three-year partnership with the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin.  

The partnership, including Dell Inc. as the leading technology provider, will invest approximately $7 million over three years to substantially increase the capabilities of the “Lonestar” high-performance computing cluster at TACC and make it available to UT System researchers at the 14 other institutions in addition to those at UT Austin. The Board of Regents approved a $3 million investment in equipment to upgrade Lonestar from 1,000 processors with six teraflops peak performance to newer technologies offering at least 1,800 dual-core processors providing at least 35 teraflops of peak performance.

Availability of the TACC Lonestar cluster to researchers at UT institutions is enhanced by the existence of the Lonestar Education and Research Network (LEARN), a fiber optic communications network funded by the Texas legislature in 2004. The LEARN network provides high-speed connectivity among academic institutions as well as to research networks across the country. The network, including TACC, is intended to enhance Texas' research competitiveness and the state's economic competitiveness and to provide state-of-the-art, cost-effective data communications that enable effective education of students around the state.

TACC has emerged in the past five years as a leading center for advanced computing, supporting the national community as a partner in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) TeraGrid, while presenting increased access to national-caliber resources and expertise to The University of Texas at Austin research community. With this partnership, researchers at the other UT System institutions will now benefit from the same computational resources and expertise that have accelerated numerous research programs over the past five years at The University of Texas at Austin.

“This partnership represents a confluence of two major trends of our time: the increasing use of sophisticated information technology and the formation of large collaborations to address major projects,” said Dr. Robert Barnhill, UT System's vice chancellor for research and technology transfer.

Examples of societal problems that can be addressed using advanced computing include predicting weather, modeling oil and water resources, and designing new drugs and treatments. The rise of computing in health-related research is growing rapidly, and UT System includes six health institutions that are home to world-class programs in research areas, including cancer treatment, epidemiology, bioinformatics, and systems biology.

The upgrading of computer hardware will make TACC's computing capabilities more powerful, making it the leading academic high performance computing center in Texas and one of the leading centers in the Unites States. TACC resources are available to all UT Austin researchers and to the national academic community through its participation in TeraGrid.

The primary upgrade will be the Lonestar cluster, which will offer a peak performance of at least 35 trillion operations per second in October 2006. Lonestar will now provide additional capacity and more cost-effective access to HPC resources by other UT System researchers. The upgrade to using new blade technology from Dell will make it more cost effective to upgrade it further when new processors are released by Intel.

TACC will provide access to this increased computing capability for the entire UT System, and will host training sessions for new users. Users from the UT System's nine universities and six health institutions will be able to apply for computer time directly and TACC will provide about 30 million CPU hours over the next three years, plus support.

“TACC looks forward to working with UT System researchers to explore the most challenging and important problems in science and healthcare today and tomorrow,” said Dr. Jay Boisseau, director of TACC. “This partnership will enable the provision of world-class computing resources toward this end, while building relationships that bring together world-class expertise to address these research challenges.”

As demand for supercomputing has increased, TACC has grown from a staff of 15 to more than 60 in four years, and that number is expected to double to 120 over the next four years.

“The initiative approved by the Board of Regents offers an opportunity to raise computational science and engineering at all institutions in the University of Texas System to a new level of competitiveness,” said Dr. Juan Sanchez, vice president for research at The University of Texas at Austin. “This is a great development for the UT System, Texas and the nation.”

Accountability for the UT System's investment, including the allocation of computer and other resources, determining the increase in research results achieved and sustainability for the future, will be directed by a UT System committee chaired by Vice Chancellor Barnhill.

“We see this ongoing relationship between TACC and the UT System providing us a continuous, persistent advantage to researchers across our all of our campuses,” Barnhill said. “TACC will continue upgrading its HPC capability and thus be able to offer continuous scientific and unique capabilities and competitive advantages for System researchers and faculty as they compete nationally for more externally funded research. We see tremendous opportunities for our ongoing efforts in biomedical research and also tremendous emerging needs and opportunities for HPC applications in proteomics, rational drug design, systems biology and bioinformatics.”

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Source: Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC)

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