sealPurdue News

July 27, 2000

Supercomputer will give Purdue research teaching edge

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University will upgrade its research computing facilities with a $10 million IBM supercomputer that will be among the most powerful research tools in the nation.

The RS/6000 SP supercomputer will be more than 15 times as powerful as the university's current system, says John Steele, director of Purdue's Computing Center. It will be operational by the start of the fall semester.

"The system will be in the top 10 percent of the most powerful systems in North America, and certainly among the most powerful systems at any university in the Big Ten," Steele says.

The system will contain 272 processors, working in parallel with a total memory of 288 gigabytes, or roughly 4,000 times more memory than the typical personal computers now on the market.

"With this system we will be able to provide our faculty and graduate-student research colleagues with the absolute state-of-the-art computing," says Robert L. Ringel, executive vice president for academic affairs.

Engineers and scientists will use the system for research that requires such high-performance applications as complex simulations and calculations for modeling the structures of molecules and viruses, studying the human genome, global climate change and the effects of turbulence on aircraft, designing more effective drugs and work involving complex graphics. The system also will be used for research and studies in "parallel computing," a method that enables the smooth operation of many computers linked together.

"This makes a statement to the world's research community that Purdue is, and plans to remain, a main player in computation-based research," Ringel says.

The system will help Purdue attract and retain top researchers, while providing students with one of the best computer resources available in the nation.

"IBM is committed to building the world's most powerful supercomputers to help researchers tackle incredibly complex scientific problems," says Mike Kerr, IBM vice president, RS/6000 servers.

Computation-based research is becoming more prevalent in many scientific and engineering disciplines, increasing the need for powerful computer systems, says Gary Isom, Purdue's vice president for research and dean of the graduate school.

The supercomputer is being paid for, in part, with funding from the Indiana General Assembly earmarked specifically for high-technology upgrades. Because companies may have access to the computer system, it will help attract high-tech industries to the Purdue Research Park and to the state, Isom says. "It will certainly provide an economic benefit to the state of Indiana," he says.

The upgraded system will enable scientists to get far more reliable research results, says Carol Post, a professor of medicinal chemistry who specializes in biophysics and uses the current system to study viruses. "It will help tremendously," she says.

A Purdue committee of research faculty members recommended the computer-system upgrade. The university then received help in selecting the system from three IBM executives: Bruce Harreld, IBM senior vice president, strategy; Al Schleicher, a retired IBM finance executive who is now a consultant for the company, both whom are Purdue alumni; and Nick Donofrio, senior vice president and group executive, technology and manufacturing.

The computer has a peak computing capacity of 396 gigaflops, meaning it could perform 396,000 million arithmetic operations per second, which would make it one of the top systems in North America.

"It's huge," says Ross Aiken, an IBM engineer who designs and builds the systems, noting that the Purdue system probably will be among the top 50 supercomputers in the world.

However, because of the constantly changing nature of computer hardware and software, the system will need to be upgraded regularly to keep it current with the latest technology, Steele says.

The system also will be compatible with other, even more powerful supercomputers, which will enable researchers at Purdue to collaborate with scientists worldwide via high-speed Internet connections.

"We have a very good, long-standing relationship with IBM," Steele says. Purdue's first major computer system, installed in 1963, was an IBM. The system will be located in the Mathematical Sciences Building.

Sources: John Steele, (765) 494-9646,

Robert Ringel, (765) 494-9709,

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709,

Other sources: Gary E. Isom, (765) 494-6209,

Carol Post, (765) 494-5980,

Ross M. Aiken, (317) 566-3630,

John Buscemi, media relations, IBM, (914) 766-3197,

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