Autumn 2008

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Calm & Collected: Keven Haynes 90C 98G stands between the racks of servers that together form ELLIPSE, the University’s fastest supercomputer.

Bryan Meltz

Think Fast

Alum keeps emory’s newest supercomputer cool

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By Mary J. Loftus

Despite the fact that he appears to be standing in a high-tech wind tunnel, Keven Haynes 90C 98G calmly reaches into a hidden niche and flips open what appears to be a laptop. “This is where we can log in if we need a terminal, but it’s like standing in the middle of the Arctic,” he says, smiling. “We do most of our work remotely.”

Haynes is the keeper of the University’s newest addition to its high-performance computing cluster. This supercomputer, a combination of 256 servers stacked neatly atop each other and joined together at a common network switch for aggregate power, takes up a significant portion of the third floor of the North Decatur Building on Emory’s main campus.

Known as ELLIPSE (Emory Life and Physical Sciences Environment), this 1,024 CPU-core Sun Microsystems cluster joins the University’s existing computational resources—the Biomolecular Computing Resource and the Cherry Emerson Center for Scientific Computation—to move Emory into the top tier of institutions for conducting computational investigations.

The high-security room in which it is housed is kept around seventy degrees with two separate air-conditioning units. The machines emit an eerie glow that Haynes and his colleagues call “X-Files” green. In the event of a power outage, a dedicated building generator kicks on. “Green lights are good,” says Haynes, senior manager of the High Performance Computing Group in the Office of Information Technology. “When they’re not working, they glow amber.”

Haynes, who is married to Emory alumna Sara Horton Haynes 90C and is the son of the Reverend A. Kempton Haynes Jr. 57C and the Reverend Rachel Fowler Haynes 79T, literally knows the system inside out and upside down: he spent days installing it and hooking up cables when it arrived last June.

The cluster has a total of 7.8 terabytes of shared disc space, and can dramatically cut the time needed to find research answers that require the analysis of vast amounts of data—just eight-and-a-half hours of ELLIPSE computation equals an entire year of twenty-four-hour days on a fast desktop.

The range of topics being tackled by applying the cluster’s “brain” power is broad, spread among fifty users and twenty primary investigators. Such high-end computing is valuable not only in math and physical sciences, but in the social and life sciences as well, says Steve Pittard, senior technical project manager, who serves as a matchmaker between the high-performance computer cluster and the researchers who can benefit from its use. “This high-performance technology enables researchers to accomplish a variety of ‘what if’ experiments that would be impractical, impossible, or too costly using conventional laboratory methods.”

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Autumn 2008

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