February 1, 2013

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center Welcomes ‘Sherlock’

Nicole Hemsoth

The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) is celebrating the arrival of its newest supercomputer, “Sherlock,” with a special event and technical symposium. The gathering highlights the cutting-edge capabilities of this uRiKA graph-analytics appliance from YarcData, the analytics division of Seattle supercomputer maker Cray.

But you don’t need to have braved the icy Midwest winter to take part in the festivities, you can watch it all from the comfort of your home or office. The event was streamed live earlier today and a recording is already available. (Due to a recording glitch, the relevant part does not begin until the 28:30 mark.)

PSC Scientific Director and event moderator Ralph Roskies kicks off the proceedings with the observation that Sherlock is Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center’s 14th supercomputer, and its seventh Cray. The big data-oriented system follows in the footsteps of their Blacklight supercomputer, the world’s largest coherent shared-memory system. In its third year of service, Blacklight is still going strong which, as Roskies notes, is an impressive feat in the relentlessly forward-moving supercomputing world.

The morning agenda features a distinguished panel of speakers, including:

  • Jared L. Cohon, President, Carnegie Mellon University

  • Mark S. Redfern, Vice Provost for Research, University of Pittsburgh (standing in for Mark A. Nordenberg, Chancellor, University of Pittsburgh)
  • Barry Schneider, Program Director for the National Science Foundation’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure
  • Sheri Collins, Executive Director of the Technology Investment Office at the Pa. Department of Community & Economic Development
  • Arvind Parthasarathi, President, YarcData
  • Nick Nystrom, Director of Strategic Applications, PSC

Mr. Parthasarathi’s talk (at the 59 minute mark) is quite engaging. The YarcData President discusses a common challenge for today’s computer and data scientists, which is the needle in the haystack problem, or more accurately, the needle in the needle problem, meaning you don’t know what you are looking for, but you will know it when you see it.

The real problem of big data, according to Parthasarathi, is a) you don’t know what you’re looking for – they all look alike, and b) you can’t break up the problem. That is the main challenge of big data that the uRiKA appliance was designed to solve.

“The process is very simple actually,” he says “it’s all about hypothesis validation. All we basically do is load up all kinds of data and then hypothesize with partial information. You try to build up that entire puzzle piece; you validate it with existing information; and then you keep repeating the cycle over and over again.”

“The power of YarcData is that in the amount of time it takes you to validate one hypothesis using existing technology, if we can help you validate 1,000 hypotheses, one of them will be right. It could be a new drug for cancer, a new treatment option, a new trading strategy, catching a terrorist, and so forth. It’s all about that notion of discovery.”

PSC Director of Strategic Applications Nick Nystrom and colleague Joel Welling conclude the morning session with a live demonstration of Sherlock’s abilities at the 1:07 mark.

“Sherlock gives PSC the first system available to researchers that is optimized for a particularly difficult family of questions regarding, for example, security, medicine, public health, and social dynamics,” observed Nystrom in an earlier statement. “These problems cost individuals and society in time, money, and human suffering. Sherlock also helps keep Pittsburgh – and Pennsylvania – at the forefront of high performance computing.”

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