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Last modified: Friday, April 26, 2013

IU raises bar in supercomputing power with dedication of Big Red II

April 26, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University confirmed its leadership in high performance, data-intensive computing by unveiling Big Red II, a powerful new supercomputer with a processing speed of one thousand trillion floating-point operations per second (one petaFLOPS).

Big Red II

Photo by Ralph Zuzolo

Big Red II

Print-Quality Photo

Big Red II replaces the original Big Red, installed in 2006. The new supercomputer, which is 25 times faster than its predecessor, will enable vital new research to be done and breakthroughs in fields ranging from medicine and physics to fine arts and global climate research. Additionally, it is expected to attract and help retain faculty whose work requires advanced data-processing power.

"There is hardly an area of research and scholarly activity where supercomputers, the most complex of human made objects, have not had an impact," IU President Michael A. McRobbie said. "With the ability to process huge amounts of data at an almost unimaginable speed, they have become an essential tool in expanding the frontiers of knowledge, addressing the world's most critical issues and probing the most fundamental questions about the universe in which we live.

"Big Red II will ensure that Indiana University remains at the forefront in the use of high-speed and data-intensive computation in support of some of the most vital and complex research in the world," McRobbie added. "In addition, the phenomenal success of the original Big Red supercomputer demonstrated that investing in high-speed computing returns dividends many times over in the form of scientific advances, research funding and job creation. Big Red II will accelerate discovery and allow new research by hundreds of IU scientists and scholars across the university, while also helping to add knowledge-intensive jobs in the state of Indiana, particularly in the state's growing life sciences economy."

Joining McRobbie in giving remarks at the dedication ceremony were Brad Wheeler, IU vice president for information technology and CIO; Paul Messina, director of science for Argonne Leadership Computing Facility; and Peter Ungaro, president and chief executive officer at Cray Inc., manufacturer of Big Red II. The dedication was held at IU Bloomington's Cyberinfrastructure Building.

Processing speed is key to a supercomputer's power, and Big Red II operates at a peak rate of one quadrillion -- one thousand trillion -- floating-point operations per second (one petaFLOPS). Put another way, it would take one person more than 31 million years -- performing one calculation per second 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year -- to perform the same number of calculations Big Red II can do in just one second.

IU officials believe Big Red II will be a major boon to Indiana's economic development.

"The original Big Red helped IU scientists and scholars bring $253 million in grant funding to the state, which in turn created jobs and boosted our economy," said Wheeler. "Big Red II is expected to again further Indiana's research funding competitiveness. Like its predecessor, Big Red II will also help IU researchers partner with firms such as Cummins to model advanced products and manufacturing processes."

With the acquisition of Big Red II, IU continues as a leader in the use of high-speed and data-intensive computation for the most vital and complex research in the world. "There are other universities that hold legal title to computers as fast or faster than Big Red II, but IU is the first in the world to have its own one petaFLOPS supercomputer as a dedicated university resource," said Craig Stewart, IU Pervasive Technology Institute executive director and associate dean of research technologies. "Big Red II will be used by IU, for IU to support IU's activities in the arts, humanities and sciences, and to support the economic development of Indiana, without any constraints from an outside funding agency."

The new system is a next-generation Cray XK supercomputer, specifically crafted for IU's needs. Housed in the university's state-of-the-art Data Center, Big Red II has more than 21,000 computer processor cores (compared to Big Red's 4,100). Big Red II will support big data applications in computational research. To further advance Big Data research, IU is also implementing a new disk storage system called the Data Capacitor II (DCII), a five petabyte, high speed/high bandwidth storage system. These massive speed and storage capabilities will undoubtedly accelerate discovery. For example, with the help of Big Red II and DCII, an analysis of human genome alignment that used to take about six months will now take only eight days.

Big Red II will be available to all faculty and students on all IU campuses through the I-Light Network, Indiana's high-speed fiber-optic network for the research and education community. Researchers throughout IU are excited by Big Red II's possibilities.

IU School of Informatics and Computer Science Professor Beth Plale sees great potential in use of Big Red II to bridge humanities and computer science research. She is director of the Pervasive Technology Institute Data to Insight Center and leads IU's involvement in the Hathi Trust Research Center, which is developing tools for analysis of massive amounts of text.

"The Hathi Trust Research Center has just released a new suite of software tools for analysis of digital texts," said Plale. "With Big Red II, those tools can be used in ways that will provide humanities scholars unprecedented capabilities in understanding literature, the history of literature and the ways we create and understand literature. At the same time, Big Red II will enable the Data to Insight Center and the Hathi Trust Research Center to develop new informatics and computer science tools that will help us address big data problems of all sorts."

"This new computer is a dream come true for any computational scientist," said Mu-Hyun Baik, associate professor of chemistry and informatics. Baik's research group has been studying how to promote reactions that will turn water, carbon dioxide and solar energy into chemical fuel -- a process that could help solve the global energy crisis. "With the new machine, we will be able to design more realistic simulations that will help us understand how to create artificial photosynthesis," said Baik.

The new system also has the power to speed advances in human health. "Having been involved in the evolution of IU's advanced computing environment since 2000, I have seen how advanced computing has become more critical to medical research and innovation, and watched as the IU computational resources have been deployed in ways that are more and more valuable to IU medical research," said D. Craig Brater, dean of the IU School of Medicine, Walter J. Daly professor and vice president for university clinical affairs. "Big Red II will be a critical and strategic aid to accelerating new medical breakthroughs and enabling research that will improve human health."

Added Catherine Pilachowski, professor and Kirkwood Chair, Department of Astronomy, "The new supercomputer will be a great benefit for research in astronomy, both for our expanding computational theory program in stellar dynamics and for handling the data from our new, large format camera on the WIYN telescope. The new supercomputer will make this work fly."

For more information about Big Red II, including photography and videos, see the virtual press kit. More news on how IU scientists expect Big Red II to accelerate new international collaborations and discoveries is available here.