Purdue and Notre Dame to Link Supercomputers

By Nicole Hemsoth

March 2, 2007

The new year will usher in a new era for supercomputing at Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame. The institutions are partnering to create a sophisticated, high-performance computer grid – to be operational in January – that is expected to put northwest Indiana on the supercomputing map.

Congress has appropriated $6.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for the project in the past two years, including $5 million approved in late November. The effort was led by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., who represents the 1st Congressional District in northwest Indiana.

“These funds will bring a supercomputer network to Indiana on par with very few others in the country due to the high speed at which it operates,” Lugar said. “This investment in technology is important for many reasons, including the innovative research it will foster in enhancing the national security of the United States.”

Visclosky, who is the ranking member on the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, said the funding for the Northwest Indiana Computational Grid is a key investment in the state’s high-tech economy.

“In order to build a new economy, we must have the high-technology infrastructure in place to attract the jobs of the future,” Visclosky said.

The grid, a network of fiber optics, will connect Purdue’s West Lafayette campus, Purdue Calumet in Hammond and Notre Dame in South Bend. The grid also will connect to U.S. government research facilities, including Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. It eventually will be a gateway to other high-performance supercomputer grids throughout the country.

The collaboration is led by a steering committee of academic, technical and administrative experts from each of the three campuses.

James Bottum, vice president for information technology at Purdue West Lafayette, chairs the steering committee and said he is enthusiastic about the future of cyberinfrastructure in northwest Indiana.

“This partnership brings together two major research universities and a premier DOE laboratory in a regional collaboration that will generate new research opportunities and collaborations among students and faculty in the advancement of energy-related science,” he said.

Gordon Wishon, associate vice president/associate provost and chief information officer at Notre Dame, said the possibilities of the grid are immense.

“This collaboration will bring great capabilities to this part of the state of Indiana, which will certainly benefit our institutions, and we expect to benefit the entire state and nation as well,” he said.

Among the partnering institutions, the grid project exists within larger initiatives to boost high-performance computer capabilities. Notre Dame is developing a center for research computing support campuswide. At Purdue West Lafayette, the new Cyber Center has just been announced as part of the institution’s Discovery Park multidisciplinary research effort.

The Northwest Indiana Computational Grid will provide advanced computational resources to faculty, as well as high-performance computing capabilities to corporate and governmental users throughout the northwest Indiana region, said Doug Sharp, assistant vice chancellor for information and instructional technologies at Purdue Calumet. The grid will offer high-speed networking, high-performance computer clusters, simulation-based research capabilities, enhanced visualization and enormous data-storage resources.

Each campus will take the lead on a particular piece of the grid’s overall functionality. For example, Purdue West Lafayette will focus on high-speed processing, Notre Dame will focus on data-storage needs and Purdue Calumet will attend to the visualization needs for grid users.

“We’ll be able to be connected in a way that we haven’t been before,” Sharp said. “With the processing at West Lafayette, the storage at Notre Dame and the visualization at Calumet, the grid will work as one piece of technology by interconnecting these individual high-speed networks. And the relationship with Argonne is really like having a fourth partner. Therein lies the economy of this project – that we can all share our combined resources.”

The grid will be connected to Argonne and other grid-computing resources through StarLight, a fiber-optic cable network made possible through the National Science Foundation.

The collective power of the grid means that researchers at these northwest Indiana universities will have the tools to explore and address some of society’s most complex problems, Sharp said. For example, the grid will have the capacity to perform sophisticated computer modeling and simulation for chemical, biological and radiological dispersion during a terrorist attack. It will help authorities predict the spread of a toxic substance, determine the threat to the public and develop life-saving next steps. Another example involves the study and visualization of the inside of a blast furnace at a steel plant, examining heat prediction modeling to project – and hopefully prevent – dangerous and costly failures that can occur inside the furnace.

Jeff Kantor, vice president for research and graduate studies at Notre Dame, said the grid will boost research. The South Bend region is home to several leading orthopedic companies that have existing partnerships with both Purdue and Notre Dame.

“Having this kind of resource available to our region dramatically advances the research infrastructure,” Kantor said. “The design of orthopedic devices, from an engineering perspective, is an example of where we can lead with simulation studies and computations work that will be supported through the collaboration of the grid.”

Other applications include transportation and environmental studies for use in city planning, health-care management, biocomputing and the study of protein structures for synthesis of pharmaceuticals, and research in advanced carbon materials.

Chris Hoffmann, a computer science professor at Purdue West Lafayette with expertise in geometric computing and modeling, has done simulations of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon. He previously used computational resources of another grid to complete these models, which took up to 68 hours to simulate one-fourth of a second of the actual events that day. He said the Northwest Indiana Computational Grid will bring exciting new prospects to his colleagues across the three campuses and will raise the bar of computational capability in Indiana.

“We want to be known as the place that has this expertise,” he said. “Simulation is the third paradigm of science, along with the theoretical and the experimental. Instead of running an experiment, we run a simulation by computations to see what will happen.”

The grid will be a tool for economic development with goals that support the state’s plans to focus on creating high-tech, high-wage and high-skills jobs. Some examples include aiding business incubators, such as the Purdue Technology Center of Northwest Indiana in Merrillville, to stimulate new high-tech companies and partnerships and supporting and improving the telecommunication sector, such as the St. Joe Valley MetroNet in the South Bend region. It also is likely to eventually benefit other campuses in the area, such as Purdue North Central.

“The infrastructure we put in place and the technology we apply will stimulate relationships that might not have occurred otherwise,” said Wishon, who also serves as chairman of the MetroNet board of directors.

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