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IU Office of the Vice President for Information Technology and CIO

Last modified: Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Indiana University to acquire nation's fastest university-owned supercomputer

Oct. 9, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana University has announced that it would replace its Big Red supercomputer with the fastest university-owned supercomputer in the nation. Named Big Red II, the new system will be capable of operating at a peak rate of one petaFLOPS, or one thousand trillion floating-point operations per second -- 25 times faster than the original Big Red first acquired in 2006.

The university plans to install the massive new system in its state-of-the-art data center on the Bloomington campus in spring 2013.

Data Center image

Photo by Chris Meyer

Big Red II will be housed at the Indiana University Data Center, above, on the Bloomington campus.

Print-Quality Photo

There is hardly an area of research these days that does not use the enormous computational power and ability to process huge amounts of data. In the life sciences it is used in areas as diverse as brain modeling, computational genomics, molecular modeling, drug design, bioinformatics and pandemic modeling, while in the physical sciences and engineering they are used to probe the fundamental limits of the universe -- from the very small, such as in the search for the Higgs boson and beyond, and at the largest scale, as in understanding the creation of the universe, dark matter and dark energy.

They are used to design planes and cars, and to model climate change, and their effect also is being felt in the social sciences and the humanities. IU researchers use supercomputers in nearly all these fields.

"IU's new Cray supercomputer will ensure we stay at the forefront of the use of high-speed and data-intensive computation in some of the most vital and complex research in the world, and the decision to acquire the fastest university-owned supercomputer is the latest evidence of how important the highest speed computation is to our researchers and scientists," IU President Michael A. McRobbie said. "It has enabled them to obtain extensive funding for their research that they would not otherwise have been able to get and has enabled them to continue to stay at the leading edge of their disciplines.

"Big Red II will accelerate discovery and allow new research by hundreds of IU scientists and scholars right across the university including in medicine, biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, network science, sustainability science, global climate research, public health and, of course, informatics and computer science. It will also play a major role in the recruitment of new faculty in these and other areas who will make use of Big Red II and its huge data processing capabilities."

"We are excited and honored that Indiana University has selected a Cray supercomputer to become the next Big Red system," said Peter Ungaro, president and CEO of Cray Inc. "The university is widely known as a leader in the academic circles of high-performance computing, and we look forward to collaborating with IU and providing their researchers, scientists and students with the unique performance and capability found only in a Cray."

"Having been involved in the evolution of IU's advanced computing environment for more than a decade, I have seen first-hand how advanced computing has become increasingly critical to medical research and innovation, and watched as IU's computational resources have been deployed in ways that are more and more valuable to IU medical research," said Dr. D. Craig Brater, university vice president and dean of the IU School of Medicine. "Big Red II will be a critical and strategic aid to accelerating new medical breakthroughs and enabling research that will improve human health."

The original Big Red, which was the fastest university-owned machine of its kind when it was installed in 2006, is now considered old by supercomputer standards. In fact, when it is retired in early 2013, it will have outlasted the typical operating lifespan for a supercomputer by more than two years.

"Big Red II is the next step in executing IU's strategic IT plans in support of the university," said Brad Wheeler, IU vice president for information technology and CIO. "In just over a decade, the investment in the Pervasive Technologies Institute by the Lilly Endowment, the School of Informatics and IU's investments in supercomputing have made the state far more competitive for research funding. Using the original Big Red, IU researchers have secured more than $253 million in grant funding, and we foresee a similar positive impact being made by Big Red II. Through the I-Light network, these supercomputers are available to all faculty and students on all IU campuses."

Big Red II will have more than 21,000 computer processor cores, compared to Big Red, which has about 4,100. Big Red II will use IU's disk storage system from Data Direct Networks, which uses the high-performance Lustre file system. IU, Cray and Data Direct Networks will also work together specifically to expand and enhance Big Red II's capacity for the movement, management and analysis of massive data sets.

Since joining IU's advanced computing lineup, Big Red has run more than 3 million computing jobs, using more than 125 million hours of computer processor time. Its speed has enabled research in medicine, biology, bioinformatics, chemistry, astronomy, physics, geography, climate studies, informatics, network science, sociology and public health.