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Brown and IBM Power Up Supercomputer

Brown University in Providence, RI and IBM are sharing investment in a multimillion-dollar supercomputer at Brown's Center for Computation and Visualization. The supercomputer--the most powerful computational system in Rhode Island, according to IBM--will be used by researchers statewide to tackle "grand challenges" affecting residents in climate change, education, energy, and health. The supercomputer can perform 14 trillion calculations per second--nearly 50 times faster than what had been available at the university previously.

The system operates at a peak performance speed of 14 teraFLOPS. The core system has 166 compute nodes, each with two Intel Xeon E5540 (quad-core Nehalem) processors, 24 GB RAM, and a QDR (40 Gbps) Infiniband network interface. A 2 petabyte Tivoli Storage Manager system provides backup and archival storage. The core computing platform also includes seven large-memory SMP systems, each with four AMD Opteron (quad-core Shanghai series) processors, 64 GB RAM, and quad data rate (QDR) Infiniband. The system is connected to the Brown campus backbone network via 10 gigabit Ethernet. The cluster will run RedHat Enterprise Linux.

During the next several months Brown and IBM will host meetings with scientific experts to discuss how the supercomputer can be used. Those may include researching advances in genomics that could lead to drugs for treating specific diseases such as cancer; investigation of the mechanics of human and animal movement; exploration of the connections between animal life and ocean ecosystems; and studies of the terrain of planetary bodies, such as Mars.

"We live in an era where computer-enabled research cuts across all research and opens entirely new pursuits and innovations. However, this work demands greater computational capacity in terms of speed and the ability to handle large amounts of data," said Jan Hesthaven, professor of applied mathematics and director of the Center for Computation and Visualization. "We now have a computing system for these times."

Researchers at the University of Rhode Island and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA--who will be among its first users--collaborated with IBM to make sure the system will meet their requirements. After the early user period ends, the supercomputer will become the primary computing platform, and the university will gradually begin to decommission older systems.

"This system will transform my ability to analyze the genomes of microbes in the ocean," said Bethany Jenkins, an assistant professor at U Rhode Island's Department of Cell and Molecular Biology and Graduate School of Oceanography. "Having the most advanced computing resources is essential to make sure Rhode Island researchers remain leaders in studying the environment."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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