Rice, Purdue's eighth research supercomputing cluster in as many years, gets off to a running start

May 8, 2015

If Kim Hoogewind is an indication, Purdue’s latest research supercomputer is going to be busy. The doctoral student was simulating future severe weather patterns on part of the supercomputer, named Rice, before all of it was even unboxed.

More than 100 staff and volunteers helped build Rice on Friday (May 8). The “Install Day” event culminated in the new supercomputer being built and running science computations the same day.

Hoogewind is a member of atmospheric science Professor Michael Baldwin’s lab, where one research focus is how climate change may affect severe weather like thunderstorms and tornados in the future, perhaps making them more frequent and more intense. Supercomputers like Rice are essential for the research, which involves simulating decades worth of weather.

“You need years and years of these simulations to try and say something meaningful,” Baldwin says. “It really takes high-performance computing, there’s no way around it.”

The new supercomputer is the eighth built by ITaP and faculty in as many years under Purdue’s Community Cluster Program, giving Purdue the best high-performance computing resources nationally for use by researchers on a single campus.

Rice should make the June TOP500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, joining Purdue’s Conte and Carter clusters. ITaP Research Computing and its faculty partners have built six TOP500-class supercomputers at Purdue since 2008. Rice is the seventh, along with a major research data storage cluster built in 2014.

See a time-lapse video of the cluster build

More than 150 Purdue research labs and hundreds of faculty and students use these supercomputing clusters to develop new treatments for cancer, improve crop yields to better feed the planet, engineer quieter aircraft, study global climate change and probe the origins of the universe, among many other topics.

“Demand from faculty making life- and society-changing discoveries drives our strong program of adding a TOP500 cluster every year,” says Gerry McCartney, Purdue's system chief information officer, vice president for information technology and Olga Oesterle England Professor of Information Technology. “We only see this demand continuing to grow as new researchers join Purdue’s faculty under President Mitch Daniels’ Purdue Moves initiative.”

Purdue partnered with HP and Intel on Rice. The new cluster consists of HP compute nodes with two 10-core Intel Xeon-E5 processors (20 cores per node) and 64 GB of memory. The cluster features a Mellanox 56 Gb FDR Infiniband interconnect and a Lustre parallel file system built on Data Direct Networks' SFA12KX EXAScaler storage platform.

Rice is designed for the kinds of science and engineering applications that make up the largest portion of the high-performance computing work done at Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. At the same time, ITaP Research Computing is adding two smaller clusters specially tailored for memory-intensive and high-throughput serial work.

Snyder, the big memory system, consists of HP compute nodes with two 10-core Intel Xeon-E5 processors and 256 GB of memory and has 40 Gbps Ethernet connections. The Snyder cluster is built for expansion and the plan is to add nodes each year as demand, grows, particularly for the life sciences research emphasized in President Mitch Daniels' Purdue Moves initiative.

Hammer, the high-throughput cluster, consists of HP DL60 compute nodes with two 10-core Intel Xeon-E5 processors, 64 GB of memory and 10 Gbps Ethernet connections. The Hammer cluster also is built with annual expansion in mind.

Purdue has a tradition of naming its clusters after the many computing pioneers in the University’s history.

Rice is named for John R. Rice, the W. Brooks Fortune Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Purdue. Professor Rice, one of the earliest faculty members of Purdue’s first-in-the-nation computer science program, is known for his research on numerical methods and problem solving environments for scientific computing as well as performance evaluation of mathematical software.

Snyder is named for the late Purdue agricultural economics Professor James Snyder, a pioneer in applying quantitative methods and computer modeling to agribusiness decision making.

The story behind Hammer’s name is a little different: it refers to the versatile tool Boilermaker mascot Purdue Pete holds in his hands.

Originally posted: May 8, 2015  4:47pm