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Purdue To Build Its Own Supercomputer, 40th Largest In World

The university will mobilize 200 of its IT staffers on Monday to build a supercomputer that has 6,496 cores and can perform 60 trillion operations per second.
Purdue University will mobilize 200 of its IT staffers on Monday to build a supercomputer, Steele, that will rank in the top 40 of supercomputers in the world.

"Our staff thought we were insane when we challenged them to build such a big computer in a day," said Gerry McCartney, CIO at the West Lafayette, Ind., campus.

But on April 28, three computing clusters that served researchers at the university were taken offline and removed from the basement of Purdue's Mathematics Building. A small number of supercomputer nodes have been installed to serve as a bridge for ongoing research until Monday's single-day effort can build the replacement. John Steele, the former director of the university computing center who retired in 2003, will be on hand for the occasion.

Right now, university officials wish they had access to a supercomputer to do some weather modeling for next Monday. The supercomputer parts will be unloaded from boxes under a large, wedding-reception-style tent in the parking lot next to the Mathematics Building. Equipment will be unpacked and positioned on carts for an open-air ride to a nearby elevator, which runs down to the basement.

"We're hoping for a bright spring day. So far, the forecast looks good," a university spokesman said in an e-mail message.

The supercomputer will be built from 812 rack-mounted Dell PowerEdge 1950 servers, each equipped with two quad-core processors. It will be able to perform 60 teraflops, or 60 trillion operations per second, which would place Steele as No. 40 on the Top 500 computers list. Steele will have a total of 6,496 cores.

It replaces Lear, a cluster of 512 Dell PowerEdge 1425s with a total of 1,024 cores. Lear will be moved to a satellite campus, Purdue-Calumet, where it will be rebuilt and used again. McCartney asked why Purdue's research computers have a tradition of being "named for tragedies," the spokesman said, and he then instituted a naming process that recognizes former standouts in the computer science department instead.

Steele is being built with some funding from the university's IT budget, but 75% of its financing came from a pooling of research grants for computing resources by 25 university scientists and engineers. "The community approach is a new and cost-effective way to fund cyberinfrastructure," McCartney said in a statement.

Rudolf Eigenmann, professor of electrical and computer engineering and interim director of Purdue's Computing Research Institute, said the pooling of the funds will enable a wide variety of research projects. "Faculty will be designing new drugs and materials, modeling weather patterns and the effects of global warming, and engineering future aircraft," he said in a statement.