Emory Report
April 4, 2005
Volume 58, Number 25


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April 4, 2005
Computing clusters support high-powered research

John ellis is co-director of academic technology and interim director of technical services for itd

The keynote speaker at this year’s EduCATE, John Seeley Brown, asked: “When the cost of computing approaches zero, what will our world be like? What will be possible?”

In research computing, capital costs are still well above zero, but they are dropping significantly each year. The computing power now available in the new Emory High Performance Computer Cluster (EHPCC) would have cost many times more just a few years ago. As we move from individual computers (“nodes”) to clusters (a collection of nodes) to grids (collections of clusters), we are presented with new possibilities for research in a wide variety of areas for relatively modest capital investment. The picture is similar for storage, with storage grids on the horizon.

EHPCC is the outgrowth of a collaborative partnership between the Information Technology Division (ITD), the Biomolecular Computing Resource (BimCore) in the School of Medicine, and Emory College. A little over a year ago, when ITD began to look at its role in research computing, it was not yet clear whether we would provide specific expertise in research subject areas, as well as common infrastructure support—server and storage management—or infrastructure support only.

Based upon discussions with researchers at Emory, including those involved in joint programs with Georgia Tech, we decided to launch a research services effort that provides infrastructure support only. The service will offer professionally managed technology to support faculty, so they can focus on research issues without worrying about computing system management, data archival, Internet security or environmental control.

Research engineer Keven Haynes joined the ITD staff to coordinate the service and provide system administration, tuning and maintenance for the cluster. Haynes, who has a master’s in computer science from Emory, brings extensive experience from Georgia Tech in supporting research computational environments.

Subject-specific expertise should continue to be provided to researchers locally. To learn about interesting studies on the specificity of learning environments in research labs by another EduCATE speaker, Wendy Newstetter, (director of learning sciences research biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech), visit www.bme.gatech.edu/people/faculty_record.php?id=34.

Where there is need, we can help find additional expertise through strategic partnerships. These collaborations will provide the researcher with a direct path to the computational environments needed for achieving their research objectives. Such coordination is especially important for multidisciplinary partnerships.

The basic idea is, where possible and appropriate, to leverage common infrastructure and research computing expertise. In some cases, we need to experiment to find the right fit. For example, we are currently exploring how to maximize the use of the substantial resources in the Computing Center at Cox Hall and the Emory Center for Interactive Teaching. In both locations, we have powerful workstations that are very busy during the day but are, in effect, “sleeping” overnight. Why not add these workstations to a computational grid and make use of these additional cycles?

That is precisely what we are exploring by using Apple Computer’s Xgrid software. Such a resource could be used not only for research but also for teaching and learning applications. In the near future, students and faculty who use digital video may be able to submit rendering jobs to an Xgrid rendering farm and process them in a fraction of the time currently required.

There are no doubt many other uses, and we would like to hear from you about them. To stay in touch with us about our research services effort, please subscribe to the research-l@listserv.emory.edu distribution list, which is used not only for distributing information updates on our services, but also to solicit input on how best to tailor those services to fit community needs.

For more information about EHPCC, visit www.bimcore.emory.edu/ehpcc.