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Last modified: Wednesday, April 5, 2006

IU to acquire nationís fastest university-owned supercomputer, largest disk-based storage facility

April 5, 2006

Editors: Video of today's announcement will be available for later viewing at

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University announced today (April 5) that it is acquiring the nation's fastest university-owned supercomputer and largest disk-based research storage facility. This uniquely places IU's cyberinfrastructure capabilities among the very best in the nation and on par with a small number of federally funded agencies and research centers.

Michael McRobbie

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The new supercomputer from IBM uses the company's newest processors and will be one of the 20 most powerful computers in the world. It will support IU research into new discoveries in the life sciences, astronomy, informatics, computational physics and the humanities. IU will have one of the largest systems connected to global research networks.

IU President Adam W. Herbert said today's news is the culmination of much work and planning over the last two years to give research scientists the computing power and data storage they need. It will help IU to retain top researchers, as well as in recruiting new thought leaders across all disciplines.

"Much of the scientific research being conducted today involves the collection of vast amounts of data, which must be rapidly moved, stored, searched, manipulated and analyzed. The top research universities of the 21st century will be those that can best perform these essential information technology functions," Herbert said. "Today, I can tell you that IU has a head-start on all of them."

Michael A. McRobbie, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at IU Bloomington, added, "Today we make clear IU's commitment to the technologies needed for continued success. Put simply, these systems will provide IU's scientists and researchers with the best cyberinfrastructure at any university in the United States if not worldwide. Only national centers and government laboratories have better. In 2001 and 2003, we announced IU had among the 50 fastest supercomputers in the world, and today we continue to provide the essential technologies for developing the Indiana economy in the life sciences.

"This new computer and other cyberinfrastructure expansions are essential to IU's success in obtaining large grants from many programs in the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, National Endowment for the Humanities, and other funding sources," McRobbie said. "These acquisitions are an essential step for IU's life sciences and IT strategic plans."

Many IU researchers advised on IU's priorities for advanced cyberinfrastructure, and they are delighted with how the new computer and storage will further their work.

"The Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics benefits enormously from IU's cyber leadership," said biology professor Peter Cherbas. "As just one example among many, we hope to draw on IU's increased data storage capacity to develop new and innovative ways to analyze gene expression patterns in model organisms -- an area where IU already plays a leading role nationally."

Sean Mooney, assistant professor in the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics at the IU School of Medicine, said the new computing resources will aid his study of proteins and genetic variation. "As the complexity of biological knowledge increases and computational models become more sophisticated, increased capacity for high-performance computing becomes essential for modern biomedical research. The acquisition of this new supercomputer will provide IU researchers with the tools to ask, and answer, questions that were previously not feasible."

The acquisition of the supercomputer and advanced storage are part of a comprehensive strategy to serve many forms of research. Even beyond the life sciences, researchers are seeing many uses for the new tools.

Photo by: IU Home Pages

Catherine Pilachowski

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"This massive storage is arriving just in time for astronomy," said astronomy professor Catherine A. Pilachowski. "Our new prototype imaging camera at the WIYN Observatory will have 67 million pixels and will produce 20 gigabytes of data per night. The next-generation One Degree Imager will have a billion pixels and will produce a terabyte of data every three nights. In short, we need fast computers with large and fast storage to process all that data into scientifically useful images. These tools allow us to explore how planets like Jupiter formed in the early solar nebula, one of the big mysteries in astrophysics today."

Ruth M. Stone, the Laura Boulton Professor and co-director of the EVIA Digital Archives Project, said the new IBM supercomputer and the additional storage capabilities will greatly enhance her ability to analyze ethnomusicological data from Liberia, West Africa, using digital video files residing in the EVIA Digital Archives. Humanities researchers are now employing the big tools of their science colleagues.

"Analyzing and utilizing these files require the latest in computer technology to process and to accommodate the storage and retrieval of massive files," Stone said. "This research and the digital archives have taken on immense significance as Liberia has been plunged into a quarter century of civil strife that has only recently ended. The cultural record of these digital images and sounds provides data and historical memory where the living performance has been silenced by conflict."

"The new IU cyberinfrastructure is a tremendous visionary step for linking data and simulation, and enables us to compete for federal funding," said Geoffrey Fox, professor of informatics and director of the Community Grids Laboratory for the Pervasive Technology Labs. "In particular, it will enable new results in use of cyberinfrastructure in earthquake prediction, chemical informatics and net-centric defense and Homeland Security networks. Our work in these activities was seeded by a grant from the Lilly Foundation and has attracted significant federal support and interest."

The new supercomputer is capable of performing more than 20.4 trillion numerical operations per second and will be connected to more than 1 petabyte of high speed disk storage. As a point of reference, if all the material in the IU library were digitized, it would amount to about 5 terabytes, and this new storage can hold 200 times as much data. It will be by far the largest of its type of university-owned storage in the United States. These acquisitions are just one part of a series of major efforts to expand IU's cyberinfrastructure -- a term that collectively also refers to its massive data repositories, high-speed networks, visualization facilities and other advanced scientific instruments.

Major funding for the acquisitions comes from the Indiana Metabolomics and Cytomics Initiative (METACyt), a $53 million grant from the Lilly Endowment meant to advance life sciences research at IU Bloomington and in the state of Indiana, and from the National Science Foundation.