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May 3, 2013

Purdue Profiles: Donna Cumberland

Donna Cumberland

Donna Cumberland, director of research services and support and interim director of teaching and learning technologies. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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Every day, Donna Cumberland strives to help Purdue's researchers make discoveries as quickly as possible.

Cumberland is director of research services in ITaP, and, for a short time, also interim director of teaching and learning technologies in ITaP. In those roles she works to make research computing and classroom technologies as helpful as possible for users on campus.

In what ways are your roles related?

In a broad sense, my goal in both jobs is to help faculty, staff and students become as successful as they can be. I am the interim director of teaching and learning technologies; that team does a fantastic job of developing tools that enhance classroom instruction and help faculty members connect with students.

As director of research services and support, I help my team with the large infrastructure projects that make Purdue researchers' jobs easier. There the goal is always to shorten the time to science -- to help researchers make discoveries as quickly as possible.

Can you provide more details about Purdue's cluster-type supercomputers?

At Purdue we have built the best research-computing environment in the United States. We have three cluster-type supercomputers ranked in the top 500 internationally by the independent group Top500.org, which has a regimented method of benchmarking each machine. This includes Carter, which in 2012 was the nation’s largest university-owned supercomputer.

ITaP was able to do this by partnering with faculty to build what we call "community clusters." Faculty members buy the most advanced machines at discounted group purchase prices, and then ITaP pays the costs to install and run them.

And at the time it was built, Carter was one of the most advanced supercomputers in the world in terms of its technology. It was so advanced that it was installed here on campus in the Mathematics Building datacenter months before Intel and HP had even announced the technology, and the servers that comprise Carter were so new they don’t have serial numbers because they were preproduction units.

It’s exciting to be able to work with faculty and to provide them with the most advanced technology in the nation, but the nature of the research being done at Purdue is that we're always striving to keep pace with the scientists' needs. So even though we have the most advanced and largest computing environment of any university in the nation, we are always looking to improve.

Is there more to your job than the clusters?

Having the best computing environment for faculty is more than just having a big supercomputer. We also run the nation's largest academic distributed computing grid, called DiaGrid, which uses otherwise wasted cycles on computing on campus, such as in student labs and in offices, to run research jobs. We've also begun developing special software to run on DiaGrid. The first was BLASTer, which is a faster version of the BLAST genetic sequencing software, and the latest is SubmitR, which runs the statistical R software.

The Envision Center, which is located between the Purdue Memorial Union and Stewart Center, offers data visualization assistance and resources, and this summer we will announce the opening of a new student research facility there.

And through the Purdue-built HUBzero platform, we offer access to more than 30 international science, engineering, and medical communities such as nanoHUB.

While there is a lot going on, we are always interested in doing more to meet the faculty needs.

What are your plans for clusters in the future?

This summer we'll be installing our newest machine, Conte. I can't really give any details about that, but it will bring new technology to campus, which will give us new capabilities. As I mentioned, we also are opening a new student facility, which we hope to announce in August or September. So it will be a busy summer.

Writer: Amanda Hamon, 49-61325, ahamon@purdue.edu