UNM gains supercomputer from the New Mexico Consortium

February 24, 2014 - By Kim Delker

UNM will soon have much more computing power under its belt. Enough to sequence the genomic data for thousands of people in New Mexico over the next several years.

Thanks to a gift from the New Mexico Consortium, the repurposed 120-node, 960-core, AMD/InfiniBand-based system will be housed at the UNM Center for Advanced Research Computing (CARC) and be made available for parallel research computing use by faculty and student researchers at UNM, New Mexico Tech and New Mexico State University.

The supercomputer is named Ulam, after renowned mathematician and Manhattan Project scientist Stanislaw Ulam.

“We are delighted to receive this gift from the New Mexico Consortium,” said Susan Atlas, director, Center for Advanced Research Computing. “Advanced computing needs are growing exponentially in all areas of science and engineering. Ulam will play an especially important role in supporting high-throughput, next-generation sequencing and genomics applications for researchers at the UNM Department of Biology and the UNM Cancer Center.”

Since the Ulam system arrived in parts, CARC technical staff members are working to connect all the wires and cables needed to get the 12-rack supercomputer up and running, Atlas said. Also necessary is the installation of additional air conditioning and electrical capability in the CARC machine room in order to adequately power and cool the new system. The first two racks of Ulam (144 cores) have already been turned on and are being configured with parallel compilers and software and will soon be available for general use, Atlas said. The complete Ulam system will come online once the machine room upgrade has been completed.

Ulam will join the Metropolis supercomputer that UNM received from the consortium two years ago, bringing the total number of cores from the consortium in production use at UNM to 1,100. In addition to Ulam and Metropolis, CARC also has several other supercomputers available to researchers: nano, pequena, Gibbs, and poblano. The Xena GPU-based supercomputer will arrive later this spring, and a 100-terabyte storage system upgrade and tape library system is scheduled for deployment next month. The Center also supports a 400-core “green” Beowulf cluster, Galles, which includes a dedicated Hadoop subsystem for large-scale data storage and processing. The Hadoop subsystem was used to teach a new computer science course on big data last fall.

Ulam was sent from Los Alamos to Albuquerque in three shipments. The 120 nodes were shipped to UNM in December, and two subsequent deliveries for the racks, switches and cables arrived at UNM in mid-January and early-February.

Atlas said the new machine is intended primarily for UNM researchers in biology and biomedicine, as it will allow researchers in those areas to perform faster, more complicated genomics sequencing and bioinformatics calculations, as well as compute-intensive machine learning and pattern recognition analyses, but the system is open for use by researchers in other areas as well. Ulam will be configured with the Ubuntu Linux operating system, which is widely used for life-sciences applications.

Atlas described contemporary parallel supercomputers as high-end personal computers connected to each other by a very fast network so they can communicate efficiently and tackle complex problems together as a single large machine. The massive explosion of data in scientific fields such as genomic sequencing and computational biology is creating a growing need for supercomputing power. Other applications of supercomputing include a wide variety of fields, such as chemistry, biophysics, nuclear physics, weather modeling, arts technology, theoretical political science, and virtually all branches of engineering.

Recent UNM projects that have utilized supercomputing include a study in engineering that analyzed the motions for complex and high-dimensional robots and a project in physics and engineering on simulations of catalytic materials for energy generation.
CARC serves all colleges at UNM, and currently supports researchers from five schools and colleges: the School of Medicine, the School of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Architecture and Planning, and the College of Fine Arts.

The New Mexico Consortium is giving the computer to UNM to make way for an expansion of its computing power for its NSF-funded PRObE supercomputing initiative, which includes receiving a repurposed supercomputer cluster from Los Alamos National Laboratory. In order to make room for the 1,800 new nodes coming from Los Alamos, the consortium coordinated with CARC to deploy these previously-owned nodes for use by student and faculty researchers.

The New Mexico Consortium is a non-profit corporation formed by the three New Mexico research universities to advance scientific research and education in New Mexico. The consortium pursues joint initiatives with Los Alamos National Laboratory in advanced computing, plant biology, biomedical engineering, and modeling and analysis. The goal of the consortium is to develop and continually improve models for pursuing collaborative research across partner institutions.

UNM’s Center for Advanced Research Computing enables excellence in research in science, engineering, biomedicine, humanities, and the arts through support for parallel supercomputing, large-scale informatics, and advanced visualization.