Temple Opens Vault on Hybrid System

By Nicole Hemsoth

May 16, 2011

Temple University in Philadelphia is slated to receive a high performance Linux cluster following recent federal and state investment, including a major instrumentation grant from the NSF. The heterogeneous system will serve as a center for addressing parallel programming challenges as well as provide a much-needed upgrade from existing HPC resources.

Axel Kohlmeyer, Associate Director at the Institute for Computational Molecular Science and is leading the installation of the new center. He claims that the 100-node system will gradually be made available to users for testing and feedback in the near term. They university hopes to see it fully functional by the TeraGrid/ICMS high performance computing programming workshop that Temple hosts in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center in mid-June.

We followed up with Dr. Jie Wu, Professor and Chair of the Department of Computer and Information Sciences at Temple to glean more details about the facility. While we were unable to attain clear answers about the vendor partnerships behind the new system, Wu shared insights about what the hybrid cluster could mean for Temple as well as the state of Pennsylania.

The pitch for the new HPC center was supported by the university’s clear need for expanding high performance computing resources for researchers. Wu says that the Center for High Performance Computing and Networking (nicknamed “the Owl’s Nest”) was the result of a partnership among a number of departments that rely on HPC resources. This includes chemistry, electrical and computing engineering, math, physics and pulmonary medicine researchers who were stretched to their limit with previous on-site resources.

The state and federal funding sources received a proposal from Temple to, as Wu describes, “purchase and operate a hybrid high performance GPU system that will complement existing and future federal and state investments at Temple University to help drive related research and educational activities.”

Dr. Wu noted that the GPU capabilities of the system give it an edge over other systems in the region. He told us that “as GPUs are about to become an integral part of mainstream computing systems, the hybrid GPU/CPU system enables support for three groups of applications: traditional CPU-based, GPU-based, and hybrid GPU/CPU-based. The proposed hybrid system enables broader heterogeneous computing by deploying multiple types of computing nodes and allowing each to perform the tasks to which it is best suited.”

Initial work with the hybrid system will take place across the computer and information sciences and scientific computing divisions at Temple. However, the reach for the facility will be broad. According to Wu, the requested system will boost research and development into parallel programming practices. He claims that both students and faculty will be able to use the center for research using existing parallel application software as well as have the opportunity to develop tools for parallel programming and applications.

Temple’s Center High Performance Computing and Network is slated to benefit the state and community via partnerships with other supercomputing facilities, including the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.  Again, in these partnerships the emphasis is on advancement of parallel programming techniques. As Dr. Wu noted, the center will foster and support joint research with local colleges and universities in collaboration with other schools in the state to develop, test, and apply advanced tools for designing and executing parallel programs.

The new system will be set to tackle other challenges in high performance computing, including those in the core-hungry field of nanotechnology. In addition to a number of other partnerships for computational and engineering research, Wu told us Temple plans to collaborate with the local Nanotechnology Institute (NTI) through resource sharing. The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center will actively promote its HPC training events to participants of the project and deliver research training seminars to Temple University via webcasting.

Overall, Temple’s Chair of Computer Sciences sees how the projects supported by the new system will fit into the bigger picture of the Digital Philly effort, which has multiple aims to support the city of Philadelphia’s efforts to become a hub of technology.

Some funding from the Digital Philly program went to support the Owl’s Nest. Wu says that funding level for Temple is $840,000 and the one for Drexel University (also in the city) is $300,000.”

The Digital Philly initiative and Temple’s new center are a winning combination for the city, says Wu, who remarked on the city’s “high concentration of high-tech and IT-related industries.” Wu said that despite this high-tech activity, there is currently no high performance computing and networking center that is able to go beyond minimal services and promote and support collaboration and cooperation among different sectors.

He claims that beyond the benefit to the city, “acquiring this system will greatly enhance the current computing facilities at Temple, which is the 26th largest university in the United States with an enrollment of over 35,000 graduate and undergraduate students.

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