The Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) has awarded a supercomputer cluster to the University of Toledo (UT) as part of its “Cluster Ohio” program. Delivered on August 4 to UT’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, the cluster was part of a larger system divided among institutions statewide.
The OSC Cluster Ohio program provides second-generation cluster supercomputing systems approximately every two years as a result of planned upgrades at OSC’s main facility in Columbus. Faculty researchers at Ohio universities can apply for Cluster Ohio grants to benefit their research by receiving systems they normally couldn’t afford. Cluster Ohio is an initiative of OSC, the Ohio Board of Regents, and the OSC Statewide Users Group, which encourages Ohio faculty to build local computing clusters and enhance Ohio’s research capabilities.
Eleven teams of researchers throughout Ohio competed for the five available clusters this year. Researchers on the Toledo team include Principle Investigator Jacques G. Amar, J.E. Bjorkman, and Constantine Theodosiou.
OSC's Cluster Ohio Program redeploys supercomputer components to researchers with statewide software licensing, and those receiving clusters must make any idle computing time available to the Ohio research community through the statewide Cluster environment on the Third Frontier Network.
Amar said the Toledo cluster will initially be used to carry out and develop a variety of medium-to large-scale computations in condensed matter physics, surface physics, plasma physics, and astrophysics. This research includes simulations of expitaxial thin-film growth and nanomachining, electrical discharge in plasma displays, and hydrodynamics of and radiation transfer in astrophysical outflows.
“The cluster will be used as an experimental facility to develop improved parallel algorithms, investigate alternative network topologies, and implement various strategies for parallel computations,” Amar said. “It will also promote the eventual development of a large-scale computational modeling center at the University of Toledo.”
Amar said Toledo’s new cluster will serve as an important resource for undergraduate and graduate education and training. It will also foster collaboration in areas such as parallel software, networking solutions, and communications strategies leading to major advances in the university’s computational physics program.
“Our department offers a course that includes an introduction to parallel computing. In the past, students had limited resources to actually practice parallel programming techniques, but having the cluster will significantly increase their opportunities,” Amar said.
Each of the five cluster systems was worth about $100,000 when they were part of OSC’s original cluster. Schools receiving a cluster incur about $9,000 in costs for installation equipment and local hardware. Also receiving cluster awards were teams from the University of Toledo, Ohio University, and two teams from Ohio State University.
The original cluster system, a 128-Node 256-Processor AMD Athlon Supercomputer Cluster, was installed at OSC in 2002. It was replaced in April 2004 by a 256-Node Intel Pentium IV Supercomputer Cluster, which is twice as powerful as its predecessor.
Leslie Southern, OSC’s Director of High Performance Computing (HPC), said an increase in parallel processing, which uses relatively inexpensive commodity components, began in the mid 1990s. This trend made supercomputing resources cheaper and widely available to more researchers in fields such as chemistry, physics, astronomy, engineering, and mathematics, she added.
“To stay at the forefront of technology, OSC production systems last about two years, although the system, when dismantled, is useful for several more years,” Southern said. “The actual life, if you stretch it, is approximately five years.”
Three supercomputers have been dismantled into 22 smaller clusters and distributed to research teams at 13 universities throughout Ohio since 2001. This award was the second for Case. In April 2002, the Case Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering received a cluster from OSC’s first round of awards.
“Cluster computers greatly enhance the capabilities of researchers and permit more ambitious computational problems to be undertaken by individual universities,” said Southern. “These advanced computing resources offer a number of important benefits to universities including greater collaboration between faculty and outside researchers, as well as the ability to undertake much more competitive and advanced research.”
Southern said Cluster Ohio grants are decided by leaders at OSC, Ohio faculty, the Ohio Board of Regents, and other experts in computer science throughout the state. Researchers applying for Cluster Ohio grants must demonstrate that receiving a cluster will impact research and discovery in computer sciences, or result in new tools and services that will assist others using parallel computing systems.
“We also look at their quality of research, the potential of research software operating in a distributed cluster environment, the principle investigator’s track record, and their commitment to providing appropriate space, power, and cooling systems for the cluster,” Southern said.