From University News Service, August 14, 2008
New lab gives dedicated space to high-performance computing
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University has opened a research and learning laboratory for students in the College of Technology's growing specialization in high-performance computing.
The high-performance computing laboratory in Knoy Hall, which opened this month, contains space for a wide variety of computer hardware, an adjoining space for student collaboration and projects, and a classroom area across the hall.
"High-performance computing is becoming more common in industry, and there is a huge demand for graduates who understand these systems," said Thomas Hacker, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer and Information Technology. "This new lab gives our expanding specialization - one of the few in the nation - room to grow."
The Department of Computer and Information Technology began offering new courses in the signature area of high-performance computing and cyberinfrastructure in the spring semester of 2008. The area focuses on teaching students how to build computer clusters, how storage systems work and how to benchmark systems.
Hacker said one of the main problems with housing such equipment is finding a room that can adequately cool the machines. Previously, these cluster machines were kept in rooms in Knoy Hall and the Math Building, but with the growth in both the popularity of the program and the number of computers, more space and improved temperature control was needed.
High-performance computers are essentially standard computers linked together in a way that harnesses all the computers' power to solve complex problems, such as weather modeling or automobile design.
"These systems are very powerful, and more power equals more heat," he said. "If the room they are in isn't kept sufficiently cool (around 68 degrees Fahrenheit), equipment can fail. In the high-performance computing world, cooling is a constant challenge."
To help keep the temperature down, the new lab is equipped with a 20-ton air conditioner, which is about 13 times more powerful than a typical home air conditioner, four chilled water pipes and several other water pipes that can be connected if the need arises. The air-conditioning unit also contains an Ethernet port that enables monitoring and control of the room's cooling system via the Internet.
And since the machines take a significant amount of power, additional electricity was needed for the lab. Four breaker boxes, each containing 200 amps of electricity, were installed in the room. In comparison, a typical single-family home is capable of handling 100-200 amps of electricity.
Hacker said the cost for the laboratory was about $400,000, which includes the purchase of the air conditioner, upgrades to utilities, televisions, monitors, projectors, furniture and improved lighting.
The College of Technology and its Department of Computer and Information Technology and the Northwest Indiana Computational Grid funded most of the cost. IBM donated the high-performance computing equipment, and additional support was provided by Purdue's Office of the Provost and a U.S. Department of Energy grant.
The computer equipment includes three generations of Myrinet, high-performance network switches donated by Force-10 networks, two IBM Blade servers donated by IBM with several terabytes of storage and various desktop-type computers used in cluster building. Additionally, the lab will house 17 high-performance Sun Microsystems, along with a six-terabyte Sun Storage Area Network.
"We have a wide variety of hardware that will give students the ability to do a lot of different things," Hacker said. "It's a very dynamic research space and is one of the few university labs dedicated to high-performance computing in the country."
Hacker said growth in the popularity of the new specialization not only prompted the need for a new space but also for additional courses. Beginning this fall, two new courses will be offered: an undergraduate class in parallel data systems and a graduate class in high-performance computing.
Computer and Information Technology 499A will explore parallel data systems, which are databases spread across clusters of servers that can extract information quickly from hundreds of terabytes of data. Internet search engines such as Google utilize this technology.
The graduate course, Computer and Information Technology 581M, will explore advanced topics in high-performance computing with a specific focus on cloud computing, petascale computing and the reliability of supercomputing systems.
Hacker said more courses will likely be available in subsequent semesters as the specialization grows. He, along with College of Technology faculty Gary Bertoline, Michael Kane, John Springer and Shannon Schlueter, are involved in advocating for a standardized curriculum for high-performance computing.
They presented a paper containing their proposal at the American Society for Engineering Education conference in May, a paper on curriculum for petascale computing to the National Science Foundation Teragrid conference in June, and a white paper to the Great Lakes Consortium for Petascale Computation Virtual School of Computational Science and Engineering in July.