In 2016, the Ohio Supercomputer Center arrived at another crossroads. We began installation of the most powerful supercomputer in the history of the center. We swapped out almost all of our storage and other infrastructure, essentially rebuilding OSC’s production infrastructure from the ground up. We also are undergoing a leadership transition with the departure of the former executive director. With all this change, what, if anything, remains the same? In short, our mission.
“At the Ohio Supercomputer Center, our duty is to empower our clients, partner strategically to develop new research and business opportunities, and lead Ohio's knowledge economy.”
Examined closely, you will notice that the mission statement doesn’t mention our “cutting-edge supercomputer clusters” or “immense and fast storage systems.” There are several reasons for that. First, the people who conduct their research by leveraging our supercomputing services are the central focus of what we do. Their work advances scientific discovery and spurs technological innovation. Furthermore, very few people find it interesting to read a story of a computer chip that is 12.26 percent faster than the one we used the year before, but there is no doubt people are captivated with research stories about the spread of the Zika virus, strategies to mimic shark skin to improve airflow around jet plane surfaces and design of future materials or new types of batteries that could more safely and efficiently power electric cars.
Secondly, the highest value aspect of OSC is found in the many services we provide, not in the rows of hardware and labyrinth of cables. Our clients often lack the time or the skills to scale up their work and really use a supercomputer to its full capabilities. As a result, our hardware is too frequently “driven like a Ferrari in first gear,” observes David Hudak, our interim executive director. To address this, we offer services that are increasingly focused on client engagement, training, facilitation and software development.
Lastly, the aspect that truly makes OSC run are the people behind our services: help desk experts eager to find a solution to any issue that arises, operations engineers who design and maintain the machinery at the data center, programmers who continue to develop new and easier access channels, coders who examine lines and lines of data to find a single command that could slow a job. As a prime example, our Virtual Environments and Simulation Group possesses great expertise with an extraordinarily powerful set of tools, which could be used in many cases to help bring even higher levels of insight to new and existing research.
One of our primary goals at OSC is to advance the academic research ecosystem encompassing the students, staff and faculty of the colleges and universities of Ohio. One of our largest client communities is that of the graduate student who does a lion’s share of the computational work for the primary investigators in academia. Grad students turn their research into theses and dissertations to complete their education, much as the assistant and associate professors do to earn their tenure.
We provide university deans and department heads with faculty recruitment materials that help draw even higher numbers of leading computational scientists to their campuses. Having direct access to our cutting-edge supercomputing services helps make quality academic programs even more competitive, enhancing national proposals and collaborations and improving the quality of academic programs.
We also provide classroom services to professors who leverage access to OSC services to teach a wide range of engineering and science courses, everything from pharmacy to aerospace engineering. In the summer, OSC hosts a residential institute for high school boys and girls and another for middle school girls, augmenting the STEM education they receive at their local schools and preparing them for the technology economy of today and tomorrow.
Since OSC was created in 1987, it has been one of our charges from the General Assembly and the Department of Higher Education to boost the research capacity of manufacturing and other industries around the state. From the concept of Blue Collar Computing, coined shortly after the turn of the century, to that of AweSim, a program that promotes online modeling and simulation apps and tools, OSC always has been at the forefront of simulation-driven design.
Many people, especially in industry, find supercomputers too daunting and expensive to integrate into the R&D process. Our engineers have been working hard to provide new services and innovative tools, such as OSC OnDemand—our "one stop shop" for access to our high performance computing resources—to make access to supercomputing simpler and more intuitive.
Provide New Solutions
Finally, to address the constantly rising demand for computing capacity, we installed a new system in our data center—the most powerful system in the center’s history. However, the new Dell/Intel-Xeon Owens Cluster was just the beginning. We literally rebuilt our entire computing infrastructure, producing dramatic increases in all aspects of storage and interconnecting network speeds. In addition, we’ve been working with our data center partners at the State of Ohio Computer Center to enhance the physical computing environment, including a viewing vestibule to make our suite more secure and visitor-friendly.
Plans for the next few years include adding GPUs to the Owens Cluster, replacing the Oakley Cluster, further expanding our project storage and replacing/upgrading sections of our tape backup systems. All of this work is being done with an eye toward supporting our mission to support those clients who are driving discovery and innovation across Ohio and beyond.