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UT Knoxville Wins $10M Grant for Powerful New Supercomputer

October 15, 2009

KNOXVILLE -- The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, $10 million to develop a computer system that will interpret the massive amounts of data created by the current generation of high-performance computers in the agency's national computer grid.
 
Sean Ahern, a computer scientist with UT Knoxville's College of Engineering and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, will create and manage the Center for Remote Data Analysis and Visualization, which will store and examine data generated by computer simulations like those used for weather and climate, large experimental facilities like the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS), and widely distributed arrays of sensors.
 
"Next-generation computing is now this-generation computing," Ahern said. "What's lacking are the tools capable of turning supercomputer data into scientific understanding. This project should provide those critical capabilities."
 
Ahern and colleagues at UT's National Institute for Computational Science will develop Nautilus, a shared-memory computer system that will have the capability to store vast amounts of data, all of which can be accessed by each of its 1,024 core processors. Nautilus will be one of the largest shared-memory computers in the world, Ahern said. It will be located alongside UT's other supercomputer, Kraken, which is the world's most powerful academic supercomputer.
 
Nautilus will be used for three major tasks: visualizing data results from computer simulations with many complex variables, such as weather or climate modeling; analyzing large amounts of data coming from experimental facilities like the SNS; and aggregating and interpreting input from a large number of sensors distributed over a wide geographic region. The computer also will have the capability to study large bodies of text and aggregations of documents.
 
"Large supercomputers like Kraken working on climate simulation will run for a week and dump 100 terabytes of data into thousands of files. You can't immediately tell what's in there," Ahern said. "This computer will help scientists turn that data into knowledge."
 
Nautilus will be part of the TeraGrid XD, the next phase of the NSF's high-performance network that provides American researchers and educators with the ability to work with extremely large amounts of data.
 
Like Kraken, Nautilus will be part of UT's Joint Institute for Computational Sciences on the ORNL campus.
 
The new machine, manufactured by high-performance computing specialist SGI, will employ the company's new shared-memory processing architecture. It will have four terabytes of shared memory and 16 graphics processing units. The system will be complemented with a one-petabyte file system.
 
Through Ahern and co-principal investigator Jian Huang, UT Knoxville is the lead institution on the project. ORNL will provide statistical analysis support, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will provide remote visualization expertise, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois will deploy portal and dashboard systems, and the University of Wisconsin will provide automation and workflow services. Huang is on the faculty of UT Knoxville's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
 
Nautilus will be joined by another NSF facility at the University of Texas that will use another data-access technique for analysis. The NSF funded both projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
 
"For many types of research, visualization provides the only means of extracting the information to understand complex scientific data," said Barry Schneider, NSF program manager for the project. "The two awards, one to the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin and the other to NICS at the University of Tennessee, will be deploying new and complementary computational platforms to address these challenges."
 
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C O N T A C T :
 
Sean Ahern, (865-241-3748, ahern@ornl.gov)
Jian Huang, (865-974-4398, huangj@utk.edu)
Jay Mayfield, (865-974-9409, jay.mayfield@tennessee.edu)