Ten years is a decent amount of time by most people's standards, but for an organization to be involved in the high performance computing industry that long it's more like celebrating a century rather than a decade.
The Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) is one of the oldest supercomputer centers around -- celebrating a decade of existence this year. The Center became fully operational in 1987 with one supercomputer, a Cray X-MP. That computer was one of the fastest in the world, able to calculate 200 times faster than many mainframes at that time. Today OSC has six supercomputers able to solve complex research problems up to 3,600 times faster than a 200 megahertz pentium personal computer.
"The Ohio Supercomputer Center represents an exciting new investment in academic and industrial research," said former Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor William Coulter in 1987.
Coulter and others including then Governor Richard F. Celeste and OSC's founding director, C. William McCurdy, and a small group of scientists and engineers determined that the state must have a supercomputer center to place Ohio higher education at the forefront of research.
McCurdy called the establishment of a Center "a critical step in moving Ohio to a leadership position in both applied and basic research" during the dedication ceremony of OSC's first supercomputer.
Designed after the National Science Foundation supercomputer centers, OSC is nationally known for lending computer time and staff support to an array of diverse projects throughout the years. These projects range from medical imaging to weather forecasting; from diciplines like biomedicine to chemistry and from physics to engineering.
G. Comer Duncan, an astrophysicist at Bowling Green State University, was one of the Center's first users. Back then, Duncan was trying to find black holes in space. This research required many complex numerical equations that needed to be solved simultaneously.
"The existence of OSC and its computational facilities has enabled me to do computational physics in ways which would have been impossible without it," Duncan said. "A statewide resource such as OSC has raised the level of quality and quantitiy of the science that I can do, and for that I am very appreciative."
The resources used today may be different than those they logged on to in 1987, but the human connection remains the same, says Duncan, who continues to use OSC facilities to assist him with his research.
"The support staff at OSC always has been available to assist researchers with their code," he said. "The Center frequently offers workshops and training courses to help us use OSC's software and hardware more efficiently."
Connecting Ohioans to the vastly growing information superhighway also has been an important role of the Center. Established to connect Ohio researchers from across the state to the supercomputer in Columbus, OSC Networking has grown from connecting about 20 colleges and universities through its network in 1987 to more than 80 today. Through OSC Networking, more than a million Ohioans access the Internet.
"OSC Networking has successfully forseen and prepared for the explosion of the Internet and its relationship to higher education in Ohio," said Charlie Bender, director of OSC. "We are one of the largest academic networks in the country. Helping the state move into the next generation of networking initiatives allows us to continue to keep Ohio connected to the rest of the world."
A part of OSC's success over the last 10 years can be attributed to its ability to collaborate with other organizations on projects that benefit Ohio users. One of these was a collaborative effort with the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD) that combined satellite technology through the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS), high performance computing, and visualization to simulate forcasts of changing weather patterns over the Great Lakes. This project was supported by NASA and the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Currently OSC and its users are involved in four national projects including the Department of Defense High Performance Computing Modernization Program, Internet2, the National Computational Science Alliance, and a project with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health that promotes prevention of tractor accidents on farms.
"OSC's role in collaborative national projects benefits Ohio users immensely," Bender said. "Our role in these efforts allows us to bring home greater knowledge of the latest tools and advances in high performance computing and networking."
So what's the biggest change in OSC from yesterday to today?
"Meeting the continual challenges of our networking and computing communities," Bender answers. "OSC's greatest strength is its stability in providing what Ohio researchers, faculty members, and students need to undertake their jobs as lifelong learners."
"In 1987, it was just high performance computing. By 1992, network growth was pushing OSC forward. Today, education, through instructional technology and distance learning, keeps us innovating. OSC has a triumphant mission of computing, networking, and education. We will always strive to be the best statewide resource for all of Ohio."
The Center will kick off the next decade with a new logo on September 15 that sets the tone for where OSC is headed during the next 10 years. The Center soon will drop the Ohio Supercomputer Center to simply OSC.
"The name Ohio Supercomputer Center no longer encompasses the breadth of what we do, which is drive innovations in computing, networking, and education. Today's innovations will benefit Ohio for many years to come." Bender said. "Our new logo shows who we are today, and gives us room to grow into who we will become tomorrow."
A lot may have changed since 1987, but one thing remains the same -- OSC will continue to position the state as a national technology leader well into the next millennium.