Purdue Builds New Campus Supercomputer in Less Than a Day

Staff members at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN had hoped to build the school's largest campus supercomputer in just a day  Monday, May 5. But it didn't take that long. The team of 200 university employees, who started unpacking equipment boxes at 7 a.m., was done by lunch. According to a campus article, by 1 p.m. 500 of the 812 nodes that make up the high-performance computing cluster (HPCC) from Dell were already running 1,400 research jobs from across campus.

The school has posted a time-lapse video of installation day on YouTube.

The new HPCC will be used for research across a variety of disciplines, including engineering, biological and earth and atmospheric sciences, mathematics and physics. Researchers at Purdue pooled their grants and provided a majority of the funding for the cluster, which is housed at Purdue's Mathematics Building on campus.

The Purdue supercomputer, which is named "Steele" for John Steele, former staff and faculty member, consists of 812 Dell PowerEdge 1950 dual quad-core computer nodes and is predicted to have a peak performance of more than 60 teraflops, which means it could perform more than 60 trillion operations in one second.

"We discovered that a build like this leverages the commodity nature of cluster computing, by using standard computing parts," said Gerry McCartney, Purdue VP for IT and CIO. "By using commodity computer servers to build our supercomputer, we didn't have to fly in engineers or hire specialized technicians. We were able to do it with our own IT staff in about four hours."

Ashlie Martini, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and one of the faculty who helped fund the project, will use the computer's power to study friction at the molecular level. She watched the technicians install the nodes in the data center. "The great thing about this approach is that almost everything was done for us," Martini said. "This was very efficient. I have nothing but good things to say about today."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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