The cluster is up and running

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By Joshua Ostrer

The IBM supercomputer has finally arrived, thanks to a contribution from IBM Senior Vice President John Kelly. The supercomputer, which was officially announced to be coming to Union in the spring, was successfully delivered and installed this summer.

The IBM Intelligent Cluster is now located in the ITS’ data center. An IBM Intelligent Cluster, like the one delivered to Union, is a powerhouse of processing power and memory designed to assist many departments here at Union. The cluster holds 88 iDataPlex servers with Intel Xeon 5600 series processors, providing 1056 processor cores. The cluster also contains four Graphical Processing Units along with 24 Terabytes of SAN storage, all running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. “In laymen terms, the cluster can process 9.5 trillion operations in a blink of an eye,” said Ellen Borkowski, Chief Information Officer of ITS.

Compute clusters are not very common at liberal arts institutions. Union intends to use the cluster for research in numerous departments. “We have two faculty researchers, one in chemistry and one in biology, who have specific applications they’d like to run on the cluster. We also have several faculty in physics interested in using the cluster,” said Borkowski.

The ITS department is also looking into installing Mathematica on the cluster. Mathematica is a computational software program mainly used in everything from math to engineering for workflow and visualization.

The cluster itself was delivered July 19; however problems arose during the installation process. “ITS had to make arrangements with multiple vendors to provide for the installation of the UPS and cooling equipment prior to the arrival of the cluster,” said Borkowski. “Timing was important in coordinating when the various components had to be hooked up and ready to go.”

However, the cluster was eventually fully up and running by the end of August.

Cluster computers are notoriously tricky to keep cool efficently, so the ITS department elected to use a water cooling system for the cluster. This sparked the interest of Richard D. Wilk, Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

In fact, the cooling of the cluster is a research question itself. “The water cooling system has an outdoor water chiller which is connected to an indoor coolant distribution unit that controls the water flow and temperature. That system does have the ability to monitor and collect data so we are working on a way for his class to be able to tap into that data,” said Borkowski.

As for any students or faculty interested in using the cluster for classes,  Borkowski notes that “ITS is currently working on understanding the configuration and support required for the cluster so that appropriate policies and procedures can be defined along with an appropriate support structure for faculty.”

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