When Gov. Deval Patrick, President Robert Caret and other state officials cut the ribbon Nov. 16 to open the new Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke, a small group of scientists was waiting in the wings, ready to step in and begin actually building a shared computer cluster, an “academic cloud” to provide service to university users.
Four principal researchers, Computer Science professor Prashant Shenoy, Chris Hill of MIT, Claudio Rebbi of Boston University and Gene Cooperman of Northeastern University recently were awarded a $2.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation Program to support a shared computer cluster. It is housed at the state-of-the-art center built by a consortium of the universities, industry partners EMC and Cisco, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The new cluster, a collection of a few thousand servers, will serve a large number of scientists in a broad variety of disciplines at the four institutions who need high-performance machines that can carry out a high volume of extremely fast calculations and store large amounts of data, Shenoy says. He and colleagues will soon begin ordering and installing new servers to form the first cluster.
“Any scientist in the life sciences, genetics, weather modeling, geosciences and engineering who needs high performance computing capabilities will be able to request time on the new cluster,” he adds. “It’s really a resource for the broad campus community. Our intent is to have a way for all our campuses to benefit from and use this cluster, which we think of as an academic cloud.”
Computer science researchers from the participating institutions will work closely with scientist users to research new systems-level paradigms to help make high-performance computing more routinely used in day-to-day research workflows. The four principal researchers will also address issues such as effective sharing policies, privacy, security and how to use energy most efficiently.
Shenoy says he expects the Holyoke cluster to begin operations in the next two months. He notes, “This new system will provide support for the many exciting new big-data initiatives across the UMass system such as genomics research and personalized medical treatment studies which can take a huge amount of computational time. There is a pretty strong need among our researchers to invest in this. We are one of the first clusters to go in, so it’s an exciting time.”
MIT’s Hill says, “This is an exciting opportunity for area universities to come together around computation-enabled science and engineering. The local team for this project really makes you think that, as Dorothy discovered in the Wizard of Oz, sometimes there really is ‘no place like home,’ especially when it comes to exceptional, cross-disciplinary talent.”
John Solem photo