Supercomputer speeds Yale to No. 1

Despite failing to qualify for an international list of the world’s fastest supercomputers released earlier this month, Yale has pulled ahead of its Ivy League competitors with a new acquisition.

Yale Information Technology Services announced Monday that it has purchased a new supercomputer — a machine that processes large amounts of scientific data at high speeds — ranked 146th in the world for speed, and 74th among academic institutions worldwide, according to the Top500 list, which compares high performance computers. The purchase of the computer cluster, named “Bulldog O,” or “Omega,” brings the University into the computing race for the first time, vaulting it ahead of the other Ivies and giving Yale professors the potential to publish their research faster than colleagues at other schools. Yale has never before owned a computer ranked among the top 500 in the world.

“[The supercomputer will provide] more opportunities to investigate theories and publish the results,” said Chuck Powell, associate chief information officer at ITS. “There’s always a gentleperson’s armsrace amongst the Ivies.”

The computer cost over $2 million, and was priced at about half the expected cost, Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Steven Girvin said. Powell called the purchase a “golden opportunity,” and Girvin added that although other institutions expressed interest in purchasing the machine, Yale moved the fastest to close the deal.

Yale bought the supercomputer used from Hewlett Packard, which was working with a government agency that was testing the computer before buying an even larger one. Powell said he does not know which government agency was using the machine. The computers’ parts are being shipped to Yale gradually for assembly on the West Campus, and Powell said he does not know where the parts are being shipped from or how the machine was being used before Yale bought it.

Pieces of the computer are already coming into building A21 of West Campus, where the 702 nodes, or processing units, will be housed. Girvin said he hopes to get the computer up and running by late April.

High performance computers can process multiple projects at once. One third of Bulldog O’s capacity will be used by three Yale professors researching climate change, Powell said, adding that the funds these academics received for their work helped pay for the new computer, and that Yale first looked into acquiring the machine because their project required one.

Fifty other faculty members have already been selected to use the new computer cluster as well, and more will be able to apply to a faculty committee chaired by applied physics professor Sohrab Ismail-Beigi for access. All in all, Bulldog O has a petabyte of storage space ­— roughly equal to the combined space in Yale’s eight other supercomputing clusters.

To advance their climate change research, professors of geology and geophysics William Boos and Trude Storelvmo and professor of forestry and environmental studies Nadine Unger will be using the computer to measure climate variables such as wind direction, temperature and humidity from censors around the world.

Boos said he needs a supercomputer because he is working with massive amounts of data, but added that the highly competitive speed of Bulldog O will not have a huge effect on his ability to publish. His work on climate change is not as competitive as other science research that may take place on the new computer, he said. For example, biology research labs compete across universities to publish findings on the same topic. However, when Boos agreed to leave his post at Harvard and come to Yale seven months ago, the University promised him lab set-up funds to pay for a supercomputer and other necessary materials. The climate change professors’ funds for setting up their labs and additional funding from the geology and geophysics department helped pay for about one third of Bulldog O.

“A lot of the sciences have become driven by large computations and large data analysis,” Girvin said. “The present machines that we have are oversubscribed.”

Powell added that Yale has witnessed the number of users of its centrally shared computing systems grow by 170 percent over the past 20 months, and in response the University has purchased the supercomputers known as Bulldogs L, M and N in the last 15 months. Girvin added that this increase in demand as well as Boos’ arrival at Yale encouraged him to buy another machine.

Bulldog O expends about the amount of energy needed to power 48 households, Powell said, though he added that this newer machine is more energy-efficient than Yale’s older high performance computers. Still, because it is about four times larger, it uses roughly 300 percent more power than the University’s other supercomputers.

Bulldog O processes at 52,526 billion calculations per second.

Comments

  • PhysicsAlum

    Yay! :D

  • weee

    Another excellent article, Zoe.