Nearly seven years ago, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) released a then-cutting-edge YouTube virtual tour of its Stampede supercomputer. At the time, Stampede was the seventh most powerful publicly ranked supercomputer in the world, delivering 5.2 Linpack petaflops. Since 2014, of course, the standards for cutting-edge have drastically changed: Stampede has been supplanted by the much more powerful Stampede2 and Frontera systems, and TACC has now released a new virtual tour of its supercomputing datacenter that eschews YouTube for a 3D, navigable virtual reality experience.
The tour, accessible here, uses spherical VR photography to create a realistic representation of most of TACC’s datacenter. Users can explore in a first-person view, using their mouse to look around and clicking to move along the hallways; they can switch to a “floor plan” view, which displays a bird’s-eye angle of the entire model; they can view the datacenter as a “dollhouse,” a sort of 3D bird’s-eye view; and they can even link their device to platforms like Google Cardboard to view the tour in actual virtual reality.
Along the way, the tour offers a number of interactive info points that offer additional details about given objects and the building itself. Users, for instance, can learn more about Chameleon, TACC’s configurable experimental environment for large-scale cloud research, or Stockyard, TACC’s global file system for supporting data-driven science.
The highlights, though, are the heavy-hitter systems: Stampede2 and Frontera. Weighing in at 10.7 and 23.5 Linpack petaflops, respectively, the systems placed 25th and 9th on the most recent Top500 list. Stampede2 delivers its petaflops with 4,200 Intel Knights Landing-based nodes and 1,736 Intel Xeon Skylake-based nodes; Frontera, with 8,008 Intel Xeon Cascade Lake-based nodes supplemented by specialized subsystems. (Frontera’s “fat” large-memory compute nodes were the subject of a recent feature on HPCwire.)
TACC is the latest in a series of major supercomputing centers to offer virtual substitutes to tours that have no longer been possible during the COVID-19 pandemic (“Since you can’t tour TACC’s #datacenter in person, enjoy a fly-through,” TACC tweeted). TACC now joins the ranks of major supercomputing centers like the High-Performance Computing Center of the University of Stuttgart (HLRS), the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which all of which released tours hosted on Matterport – the same platform used here by TACC – to showcase cutting-edge systems like Hawk, MareNostrum and Summit.
TACC, for its part, has big plans for the future: predominantly, a Leadership-Class Computing Facility (LCCF) that would support cyberinfrastructure of all kinds beginning around 2025 and host a system “10 times more capable than Frontera.” The new center, if it materializes as envisioned, should be a sight to behold: current plans include a computational science museum and learning center, as well as an elevated balcony that overlooks the racks.
To take the virtual tour of TACC’s datacenter, click here.