Purdue's Rossmann supercomputer makes list of world's most powerful systems

November 16, 2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue's new Rossmann supercomputer is among the most powerful high-performance computing systems in the world, according to rankings released at the SC10 supercomputing conference in New Orleans on Tuesday (Nov. 16).

The TOP500 Supercomputer Sites project has been ranking the 500 most powerful known systems twice a year since 1993 as a way of detecting and tracking trends in high-performance computing. Rossmann placed 126th on the latest list.

"This system demonstrates Purdue's ongoing strategic commitment to support a continually growing research portfolio by partnering with faculty to provide necessary computational cycles," says John Campbell, Purdue associate vice president for academic technologies and research computing. "Over the past three years, we have installed three clusters with more than 130 teraflops of capacity."

Purdue's Coates supercomputer, built in 2009, also is on the latest TOP500 list at 147. The clusters are operated by Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP), Purdue's central information technology organization, and ITaP's research arm the Rosen Center for Advanced Computing. The Steele cluster, built in 2008, made the list that year and in 2009.

Rossmann, Coates and Steele are all the result of Purdue's 2010 Campus Technology Innovators Award-winning Community Cluster Program. The partnership with faculty researchers has increased the research computing power available at Purdue by more than 10 times since 2006. Rossmann, installed over the summer, is used cooperatively by faculty in aeronautics, engineering, nanotechnology, biology, chemistry, physics and statistics, among other fields.

"Purdue's cooperative purchasing system has allowed us to develop one of the nation's best cyberinfrastructures for research faculty," says Gerry McCartney, Purdue's vice president for information technology, chief information officer and Olga Oesterle England Professor of Information Technology. "This not only allows the researchers to use their grant funds much more efficiently, but it also frees them from having to maintain the clusters. The scientists do science and the IT staff operate and maintain the computers and, overall, more work gets done in less time."

One of the faculty partners in Rossmann, Purdue aeronautics and astronautics and mechanical engineering professor Charles Merkle, uses Community Clusters to examine fluid dynamics processes. An example is the acoustic waves that blow through both pipe organs and rocket engines, making beautiful music in one case and potentially spelling disaster in the other.

Merkle's computer modeling incorporates tiny steps played out over time. More computational muscle enables more detailed - and accurate models - to be run and dramatically speeds the results.

"These machines together have really changed what we do," says Merkle, whose research could apply to rocketing astronauts to Mars, among other things.

The TOP500 generally captures the most powerful academic and commercial research supercomputers. Information about classified systems, used largely for defense purposes, isn't released for the list.

The Rossmann cluster features HP compute nodes with dual 12-core AMD "Magny-Cours" processors and 48, 96, or 192 gigabytes of memory. The new cluster has three times more processing cores and memory per node than the clusters Purdue installed in 2008 and 2009. The new supercomputer also includes a high-performance Lustre parallel file system and 10 Gigabit Ethernet interconnects.

Purdue has a tradition of naming its new clusters after campus computing pioneers. Rossmann is named for Michael Rossmann, Purdue's Hanley Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences and a pioneer in using high-performance computing to deduce the structure of viruses and their component protein molecules. Rossmann announced in November that his lab had found a way to prevent protein-related structural changes needed for West Nile virus to infect host cells. The information could help scientists develop a vaccine against the mosquito-borne disease.

Writer:  Greg Kline, 765-494-8167, gkline@purdue.edu

Sources:   Gerry McCartney, 765-496-2270, mccart@purdue.edu

                 John Campbell, 765-494-1289, john-campbell@purdue.edu

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