OTC News Archive

UT debuts its newest supercomputer

Kirk Ladendorf, Austin American-Statesman
April 4, 2011

The newest supercomputer at the University of Texas, Lonestar 4, isn’t the biggest in town, nor the most expensive, but it may be the fastest, at least for some computing tasks. The new Dell Inc.-powered machine could be the most collaborative high-performance computing machine ever at UT.

Texas A&M University and Texas Tech chipped in with UT Austin and the University of Texas System, among others, to build the $12 million computer. Other contributors were the National Science Foundation, UT’s Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, and multiple technology partners, including Dell, Intel Corp., Mellanox Technologies, and Data Direct Networks.

Michael Dell attended the dedication ceremony Monday at UT’s Pickle Research Campus. Others present included UT President William Powers Jr., U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Jay Boisseau, who oversees the Texas Advanced Computing Center. The machine consists of 1,888 Dell blade servers, each with two Intel Xeon 5600 “Westmere” processors. It’s expected to support more than 1,000 research projects in science and engineering over the next four years.

The new computer succeeds the Dell-based Lonestar 3, built at the computing center in 2006. The center, which operates the machine, estimates that Lonestar 4 will perform 8 million trillion computer computations over its projected four-year lifetime. That’s about what the typical laptop computer could do in 44,000 years, the computing center said.

The computer doesn’t have the total computing power of Ranger, a larger supercomputer built at center in 2008. But Lonestar 4 speeds up work on some computing problems, such as earthquake simulations, that use part of its capacity. That’s because it uses more advanced processor chips and a faster network than Ranger has.

The new computer already has been used by researchers in Japan, who have had some problems with their own supercomputers because of power outages. Tommy Minyard, director of advanced computing systems at the center, said Dell passed along a request from Japan that researchers needed help from UT’s computer.

“We gave them 500,000 (processor) hours to start with, and they used 100,000 hours in less than two weeks,” Minyard said.

Researchers from the University of Tokyo and a few other Japanese schools are using the machine to model the earthquake and the tidal wave that struck Japan last month. They also are using it to model where radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has dispersed in the ocean and the atmosphere.

Powers described high-performance computing as “the fuel on which much of the modern research university runs.” Austin and Texas “are getting accustomed to being at the front of the supercomputing pack, as it should be. Lonestar 4 solidifies this position,” Powers said.

UT researchers said the new machine will be useful in a wide range of research, from the dynamics of polar ice sheets to the effects of hurricane storm surges in two and three dimensions.

[ Austin American-Statesman ]