Troubled Supercomputer May Get Split Apart

By Robert Gelber

August 29, 2012

New Mexico’s beleaguered Encanto supercomputer is back in the news. After the state government threatened to repossess the system in July, it now looks like they may have found some buyers willing to take it off their hands.

When the system was deployed in 2007, it landed in third place on the TOP500 list. The machine’s 133 teraflops was to be rented out to organizations looking to harness its world-class computation capacity, the idea being to generate enough revenue to pay for operational costs. The system was being managed and hosted by the non-profit New Mexico Computing Applications Center (NMCAC).

Unfortunately, the buyers never materialized and the facility fell into debt, owing $421,000 in maintenance bills to Encanto’s vendor, SGI. As a result, the New Mexico administration said they would repossess the cluster, claiming NMCAC owed $1.25 million to SGI and the chip vendor, Intel. Since the state has apparently failed to sell the system to prospective buyers, it looks as though it may be partitioned between two or more local universities. Today, The Albuquerque Journal covered the continuing Encanto saga.

According to the report, New Mexico State University, the University of New Mexico and New Mexico Tech have expressed interest in taking on the cluster.  Darryl Ackey, state information technology officer, is expecting a proposal from the universities, but remains uncompromising about potential cost. He’s told the schools he’s open to proposals, but it has to fit in the current budget and it has to be a sustainable arrangement.

The system, which cost the state a combined $20 million between procurement and operational expenses, has received $60 million in federal funding. As for the $1.25 million debt, $826,800 was covered through an agreement between NMCAC and Intel. The chipmaker was given access to the cluster in exchange for use of their Rio Rancho facility.

Ackley was also quick to mention that one prospective buyer of the system said the hardware was too old. As of June 2012, the Encanto cluster had slipped to number 128 on the TOP500 list.  Such is the short life of supercomputers these days.

While plans are still being worked out, it appears the University of New Mexico will take the bulk of Encanto. New Mexico Tech has said it lacks the infrastructure to maintain any portion of the system and New Mexico State University is only interested in taking on two racks.

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