Research & U: Cluster


By Joshua Ostrer

Union is continuing to take advantage of the IBM supercomputer donated by IBM Senior Vice President John Kelly last year, and installed this past summer. The cluster holds 88 iDataPlex servers with Intel Xeon 5600 series processors, providing 1056 processor cores.

As the cluster continues its presence at Union, more faculty are beginning to take advantage of it. While Janet Anderson, Florence B. Sherwood Professor of Physical Sciences and Professor of Chemistry continues to take advantage of the clusters computing power, others are also beginning to use the cluster.

Among those interested in using the cluster are three computer science professors, including one who is planning on actively using the cluster in his parallel computing class. Additionally, Kristina Stiegnitz, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, is working alongside Kirk Winans ’12 to use the cluster for processing millions of tweets for Kirk’s Senior Project, “Contemporary social movements through twitter”.

The clusters potential is only starting to be realized as ITS makes an effort to expand its use. ITS has recently tasked a staff member with individually being responsible for the cluster, as previously ITS had no single person assigned to developing the cluster’s use on campus.

ITS is looking to make the cluster more of a resource for faculty. “We looked at what tools faculty already use on their computers and try to implement them on the cluster,” said Ellen Borkowski, Chief Information Officer of ITS.

ITS has already installed Mathematica, a computations program on the cluster, but is well on its way to installing additional programs. ITS is currently in the process of acquiring final documentation, after having already received the license to run Matlab, a program capable of intensive matrix manipulations, function plotting and creation of user interfaces, on more than 128 (of 1056)cores within the cluster.

Additionally, ITS is pursuing the program STAR-CCM+, a program designed to simulate fluid dynamics using vast amounts of data, for the Mechanical Engineering Department. However, both Mechanical Engineering and ITS are encountering financing issues which must be overcome to purchase the licensing for the program.

The development of the cluster has gone without any major problems. “The only real problem was start up; figuring out what we have, and then getting the documentation to figure it out.” Said Ellen Borkowski.

As far as student use of the cluster goes, it remains on a case-by-case basis. “With the cluster, it’s not like a normal computer, each case is unique in its uses and tools required, there isn’t a ‘cookie cutter’ way to approach cluster use,” said Ellen Borkowski.

Any students interested in using the cluster for research should contact their faculty advisor and have your advisor contact Ellen Borkowski: “As we continue, we hope to see more projects come out of the woodwork.”


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