University of Vermont

cems
College of
Engineering and Mathematical Sciences

Leahy secures additional $1.7M for UVM'S high-performance computer

Release Date: 09-15-2008

Author: Jeffrey R. Wakefield
Email: Jeffrey.Wakefield@uvm.edu
Phone: 802/656-2005 Fax: (802) 656-3203

The University of Vermont formally unveiled a new high-performance computer today that provides computational speed and data storage capacity equal to or exceeding computers at other premier research universities.

The Vermont Advanced Computing Center (VACC) was built in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and funding secured by Senator Patrick Leahy. Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced today an additional $1.7 million to make further improvements to the system that is now helping Vermont researchers reach new milestones in their fields.

The VACC, a university-wide center managed and administered by the College of Engineering and Mathematical Science (CEMS) in coordination with UVM Enterprise Technology Systems, is located at Technology Park in South Burlington, Vt.

Developed with IBM "e1350" high-performance computing cluster technology, the VACC's high performance computer is among the fastest in New England, with a speed of 7.1 teraflops, or effectively seven trillion calculations per second. Its 1,400 processors can do in one day the work a normal desktop computer would need a four years to accomplish. Its high speed network can communicate information equivalent to every book in the Library of Congress in under eight seconds.

"For far too long, our excellent Vermont researchers had to make do with inadequate computing capacity, holding them back on reaching even greater breakthroughs," said Leahy. "UVM has now built a computer system that is worthy of the cutting edge research that is being carried out to understand our complex environment and global climate, 21st century engineering, energy and transportation challenges, agricultural, biological and human health issues, and the new social interactions driving our digital economy. I have no doubt that this computer will lead to new breakthroughs in all of these areas and more."

"The VACC is critical to helping UVM achieve its goal of being one of the premier small research universities in the nation," said Daniel Mark Fogel, UVM president. "Having this kind of computing power allows us to address the most complex research challenges of our time and to make significant contributions to the betterment of Vermont, the nation, and the world. We couldn't be more grateful to Senator Leahy for both his vision and his strong ongoing support of UVM."

"To be a world class research institution in today's innovation economy, it is imperative to have high performance computing capacity and the opportunities it brings for cutting-edge computation, modeling, and visualization," said CEMS dean Domenico Grasso, under whom the center will operate. "We cannot thank Senator Leahy enough for his work on behalf of UVM. VACC ensures that UVM will continue to be competitive for the very best faculty in the world – men and women doing cutting-edge research and bringing their knowledge and innovative thinking to our students. Bringing these talented people to UVM in turn creates a culture of innovation that drives high-value economic development in Vermont, attracting high tech companies, enabling start-ups, and adding to the economic and cultural vibrancy of our globally-connected state."

VACC is currently used most heavily by about ten UVM faculty groups, largely in CEMS. These faculty access the facility remotely from their desktops via a high speed fiber optic network infrastructure recently installed around Burlington. UVM research in the center spans a wide gamut, from self-aware robotics design and artificial intelligence to work that will improve the accuracy of weather forecasts to propulsion systems design for small scale spacecraft.

VACC also has research partnerships with Middlebury College and is engaged in several computationally-intensive, collaborative efforts with institutions around the world.

"The VACC allows my research to delve into the level of computation and resolutions critical for understanding the chaotic behaviors of complex systems, from hurricane prediction to social networks," said mathematician Chris Danforth, an assistant professor in CEMS and recent arrival to UVM from the nation's top-ranked chaos research group at University of Maryland. "It is invaluable to me, to my students, and to a better understanding of the complex world in which we live."

The new appropriation will continue to establish and expand the presence of VACC as a major infrastructure for UVM and to leverage new partnerships. The funds will continue active training, outreach, and service to ensure faculty across the university use the powerful resource as they compete for highly competitive grants. Several research teams currently using the facility work across disciplines and in emerging work in "complex systems" – a computationally intensive field exploring emergent, non-linear behaviors recently made a priority for national research investment.

In keeping with UVM's strong commitment to environmental responsibility, the facility is a relatively light power user for the speed and performance it delivers. The designers of the facility made a small tradeoff in performance, reducing processing speed by 10 percent, for a major reduction in power use of 30 percent.

With earlier funding of $2.5 million secured by Senator Leahy, the VACC began coming on line in 2005 and has received a series of major upgrades since then. The most recent, which is currently being installed, has led to a 250% increase in performance.

For more information, see the story at supercomputingonline.com.