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July 31, 2019

The University of Vermont unveiled a massive upgrade of its supercomputer, the Vermont Advanced Computing Core (VACC), on Wednesday morning that will increase its speed by a factor of over 200.   

Using a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the university added a cluster of 80 high performance graphics processing units, or GPUs, containing 460,000 processing cores to the VACC, housed in UVM's primary datacenter in South Burlington, over the winter and spring.

The new computing cluster, dubbed DeepGreen, is now operational. It can achieve a speed of over 1 petaflop, or one thousand million million computations per second, the equivalent of 20,000 laptop computers working in tandem. 

“This is a massive upgrade,” said Richard Galbraith, UVM’s vice president for research, “and a necessary one. In this age of big data, having a facility like this is absolutely essential for our faculty to stay at the cutting edge of their disciplines.”  

The upgrade positions the university well, said Adrian Del Maestro, associate professor of physics, director of the VACC and principal investigator on the NSF grant.

“It one of the fastest supercomputers in New England,” he said, “and one of the 100 fastest academic supercomputers in the country."

According to Del Maestro, the increase in processing speed, combined with hyper-fast network connections within the cluster, will enable faculty to take on new types of research projects they did not have the computational power to explore in the past.

He cited three examples.

“Josh Bongard in Computer Science will use DeepGreen to analyze a gigantic crowd-sourced data set to produce safer human-robot interactions,” he said. “Hugh Garavan in Psychiatry will use the new machine learning cores on the cluster to determine the impact of substance use on developing adolescents using brain imaging. And Yolanda Chen in Plant and Soil Science can massively speed up the genome re-sequencing of the Colorado Potato Beetle to better combat emerging threats to our food supply in a changing climate.”

The upgraded VACC will also be a great asset in undergraduate education, said Safwan Wshah, an assistant professor in UVM’s Computer Science department who teaches machine learning and deep learning to about 80 students per year.

“Deep Green will enable them to take on more and bigger projects and put them at a distinct advantage as they enter a job market that is tightly focused on artificial intelligence,” he said. “They are very excited to be entering this new age of discovery.”

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