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High-Performance Computing

TACC Makes Microsoft Project Catapult Servers Available to Academic Researchers

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin is offering researchers the opportunity to access Microsoft's Project Catapult clusters for science and engineering research projects.

Originally developed as an experiment to improve the speed and efficiency of Microsoft's Bing search service, Project Catapult uses standard Microsoft datacenter servers that have been augmented with an Altera field programmable gate array (FPGA). According to information from Microsoft, FPGAs offer numerous benefits: The functionality of FPGA gates can be changed on the fly, providing "programmable logic that can be tailored to individual applications," unlike standard chips, which have permanently etched gates. The FPGAs also offer significantly accelerated performance and reduced power consumption.

TACC is home to the first Project Catapult cluster outside of Microsoft. It consists of 432 two-socket nodes, each of which features two Intel Xeon E5-2450 processors, 64 gigabytes of RAM and an Altera Stratix V FPGA with 8 gigabytes of local DDR3 RAM. Microsoft is deploying the system in collaboration with TACC with the goal of investigating "the use of FPGAs as computational accelerators to improve application performance, reduce power consumption and open new avenues of investigation for researchers," stated a news release from TACC.

"As one of the largest providers of advanced computing systems for open data- and compute-intensive science in the US, TACC serves as a bridge between the computing community and researchers in engineering and science," said Bill Barth, director of TACC's High Performance Computing group, in a prepared statement. "The open research community doesn't have a large, publicly available FPGA system, so this will be quite exciting for both the scientists and engineers and the FPGA research computing communities."

Researchers interested in accessing the Catapult system are invited to submit a proposal for consideration by TACC and Microsoft. Further information about the Project Catapult system is available on TACC's site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at [email protected].

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