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Last modified: Friday, April 26, 2013

IU scientists expect Big Red II will accelerate new discoveries, broader partnerships

April 26, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University's new supercomputer is expected to further advance international collaborations reliant on big data research at a time when the globalization of education, science and research is omnipresent.

Data Center image

Photo by Chris Meyer

The IU Data Center on the Bloomington campus houses Big Red II.

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IU Distinguished Professor of Biology Michael Lynch said the purchase of Big Red II provides the university and its collaborators with the requisite one-two punch for researchers mining petabytes of data: Power and speed. Lynch is a computational biologist, a bioinformaticist, whose work includes analyzing the function and structure of DNA sets in single cells and entire organisms.

Lynch understands that with power and speed, discoveries can be accelerated for scientists all over the world.

"One of the primary limiting factors in our genomics research is power and speed in computational analysis," he said. "The attention given to the long-term maintenance of high-performance computing at IU, and the staff involved, is absolutely critical to this work. It is also one of the main factors why IU is unusually attractive for researchers in computational biology."

Volker Brendel, a professor of biology and computer science at IU Bloomington, agreed with Lynch and added that the presence of Big Red II not only ensures IU will maintain its status as a destination for top computational biologists, but will also be a formidable ally in the ongoing drive to advance and transform the relationship between technology and science.

"Modern biology in all areas of research is becoming irrevocably linked with high-performance computing and cyberinfrastructure, and this is not only because of the volume of experimental data to be analyzed, disseminated and stored, but also because computation is the natural framework for the diverse phenomena studied in biology much as calculus has been the natural framework for much of physics," he said. "We can get our computer-intensive projects done, and we collaboratively push the development of next-generation tools and infrastructure."

With Big Red II more scientists will be able to more quickly access remote instruments, data and computational resources around the globe, some of which are already in use for conducting research on climate change, evolutionary biology, high-energy physics and medicine. It's not a stretch to say that more lives will be helped or saved quicker thanks to IU's acquisition.

"Big Red II will provide a foundation, in particular, for expanding the knowledge about the molecular basis of our natural world, and will support international collaborations necessary for the development of products and therapies that improve human health," said Bill Barnett, who oversees programs that provide research portals and high-performance computing-based applications for advanced biological and medical research at IU and the IU School of Medicine.

Barnett is also director of NCGAS -- the National Center for Genome Analysis Support -- founded at IU in 2011 and designed to provide supercomputing tools to scientists like Lynch and Brendel around the world.

William Barnett

Bill Barnett, director of IU's National Center for Genome Analysis Support, said the new supercomputer will support international collaborations that improve human health.

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There are myriad other projects associated with international research tied to IU that are dependent upon high performance computing -- TransPAC3, ACE, Operation IceBridge, HathiTrust, XPRESS, and ATLAS are but six that collectively stretch the globe and that have brought tens of millions of dollars in research funding to IU. The expectation is Big Red II will multiply those opportunities and allow existing partnerships to grow.

When you think about connecting Los Angeles with Beijing, Indiana wouldn't seem to be in the mix, but that's just the case with TransPAC3, the IU-led high-speed research and education Internet route between the U.S. and Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Philippines, Nepal, South Korea, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand, Singapore and India. In Pakistan alone scientists from 60 universities and institutes are now linked to peers across the globe through TransPAC3.

The European equivalent, ACE, doubles down on IU's stature as a global technology center for science and education as Big Red II will help support diverse projects like the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in Southern France and the Australian Square Kilometre Array prototype Pathfinder international radio telescope.

"A supercomputer resource present at and owned by IU allows our researchers to participate directly in projects with other organizations both nationally and internationally," said James Williams, IU's director of international networking. "This direct ownership provides IU with the necessary flexibility to quickly take advantage of opportunities, and to lead rather than to participate or follow."

Bringing a new asset like Big Red II online now, as the current explosion of big data and computational needs drives new modes of international research collaboration, places IU in an enviable position: On one hand fewer IU researchers will find themselves standing in line waiting for high-performance computing time, while other top tier international researchers are expected to come knocking, IU officials believe.

"Now they can go as fast as their computer will let them," IU's Matt Standish said of climate scientists using real-time data while working in-flight for NASA's Operation IceBridge, the largest airborne survey ever of the Earth's polar ice. IU's innovative data management and storage solutions, supported by Big Red II, facilitate technology that is measuring polar ice sheet interaction in Greenland, Chile and Antarctica more efficiently. With instant access to data, there's no need for scientists to copy the information, store and review it, and then schedule new monitoring flights.

"We're able to get better results to NASA, faster," said Standish, the IU team lead for campus bridging and research infrastructure in the Office of the Vice President for Information Technology.