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July 23, 2013

ALTAMIRA Boosts Scientific Discovery at Spanish University

Alex Woodie

Researchers at the Universidad de Cantabria in northern Spain are just beginning to tap into the power of ALTAMIRA, a new 80-teraflop supercomputer cluster installed at the university in 2012.

The IBM-built system is one of the largest in Spain, and will help university researchers delve into a number of fields, including astrophysics, physics, medicine, and climate change.

ALTAMIRA is installed at the Instituto de Física de Cantabria, a joint research center co-founded by the university and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

“Universidad de Cantabria has always been committed to driving scientific progress across Europe by developing and supporting projects within several highly specialized fields,” said Jesús Marco de Lucas, a CSIC researcher at the Cantabria Physics Institute, in an IBM case study on the ALTAMIRA implementation. “To do so, we need a computational infrastructure that is as advanced as our research.” 

ALTAMIRA will replace a 4-teraflop HPC resource at the university, and provide the extra computing horsepower needed to model systems and make discoveries in a variety of areas, including processing large maps of the universe, simulating ocean waves and tsunamis, searching for new sub-atomic particles, and supporting the development of personalized medicine.

The cluster, which was funded by the INNOCAMPUS national initiative, will be utilized by CSIC researchers at the university. The plan is to bring outside corporations into ALTAMIRA’s fold as well, including companies in the financial, telecommunications, and energy sectors that are headquartered in Cantabria’s local science and technology park.

“In the Cantabria region there are several institutions that are very interested in energy distribution and consumption,” de Lucas said in the case study. “Universidad de Cantabria wanted to give them an opportunity to gain a better understanding about how to optimize the use of energy.” The system will also be used in support of research conducted elsewhere in Europe.

It’s conceivable that ALTAMIRA will also be processing large amounts of human genetic data for the local hospital too. The university plans to support the personalized medicine endeavors of the Hospital Universitario Marqués de Valdecilla. “Our previous IT system was not powerful enough to support the intense requirements of such research projects,” de Lucas says in the case study.

ALTAMIRA is an IBM iDataPlex cluster composed of 3,840 Intel Xeon cores spread across IBM iDataPlex, BladeCenter, and System x server nodes, and various IBM storage servers. The cluster uses an Infiniband FDR interconnect, the GPFS file system, and runs the Scientific Linux operating system.

The cluster debuted in June 2012 at number 358 on the Top 500 list with a sustained performance of 74.4 teraflops and a peak performance of 79.9 teraflops. It has since been dropped from the Top 500 list, which has a 96.6-teraflop system listed in 500th place. At 79.76 kilowatts, ALTAMIRA’s energy consumption was enough to get it listed on the Top Green list of most energy efficient HPC systems.

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