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Last modified: Thursday, September 10, 2009

IU to lead nationwide research network to expand supercomputer capabilities

Sept. 10, 2009

EDITORS: To learn how the grant will help the state of Indiana, visit

See photos and video of the press conference at

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A group of information technology researchers at Indiana University has been chosen by the National Science Foundation to lead a four-year, $15-million project to develop new software to link together the supercomputers of tomorrow and enable new approaches to scientific research for problems of massive scale. $10.1 million will come from the NSF, with project partners providing the balance.

Big Red

Photo by Chris Meyer

President McRobbie with Big Red.

Print-Quality Photo

The grant will enable construction of an experimental supercomputing network to be called FutureGrid, which will be made of almost 1,400 advanced computer processing units at Bloomington and five other locations in the United States.

"This is a major achievement for Indiana University because this project is so vitally important to the future of scientific research at all institutions of higher learning," said Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie. "The ultimate goal of this project is to create the next generation of investigative tools for scientific researchers whose computational needs often exceed the capabilities of a single institution or network. I am grateful to the National Science Foundation for their confidence in this research team."

IU, with partners among the best computer scientists and supercomputer centers across the U.S., won the grant in a competition that pitted it against several of the nation's leading information-technology research institutions.

The project's ultimate goal is to make it easier for scientists to conduct research projects that require enormous data processing capabilities, such as complex modeling of climate systems or analyzing and comparing DNA segments and complex organic molecules.

McRobbie said a major reason IU was able to successfully compete for this prized research grant has been the state's investments in I-Light. In 1999, the General Assembly created the high-speed, I-Light computer network for research and education. It later expanded it across the state. Similarly, the sustained support of the Lilly Endowment for expanding IU's information technology infrastructure and hiring key academic staff has been invaluable. Since 1999, the endowment has invested some $57 million for research and equipment in information technology.

"Together, I-Light, the Lilly Endowment, and the university's consistent strategy created the essential conditions for this $15-million IT research project to be led in Indiana," McRobbie said.

"I am grateful for the work of the Lilly Endowment, which is enabling IU and the state to move into the forefront of research for technology and the life sciences," McRobbie added.

Some of the NSF grant money will be used to expand supercomputers at IU, which will be housed in the new concrete-hardened Data Center at 10th Street and the Ind. 45/46 Bypass in Bloomington alongside the "Big Red" supercomputer.

Brad Wheeler, IU vice president for information technology, said a variety of supercomputers from IBM, Cray, Dell and others will be purchased for the network.

"Each type of supercomputer has a unique architecture and capabilities that make it ideal for certain types of uses," Wheeler said. "One of our goals in this project is to learn by conducting formal experiments for the best ways to put all these computers together for researchers."

The network's processors will be located at IU Bloomington, the University of California San Diego, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the University of Chicago/Argonne National Labs, the University of Florida in Gainesville and University of Texas at Austin. They will be connected together through advanced research and education networks like National Lambda Rail and Internet2. FutureGrid will also connect to Purdue University via Indiana's I-Light and also to the High Performance Computing Center at the Technical University of Dresden, Germany.

Wheeler said one way of looking at the FutureGrid network is to think of it as "an experiment factory" in which supercomputers can be interconnected in a myriad of different ways to find out which connections and software combinations work together and which do not.

The ultimate goal is to create a system that researchers can access for supercomputing projects without having to worry about the hardware design and capabilities.

"This NSF grant demonstrates IU's capability to lead large research teams at the frontiers of discovery," said Bobby Schnabel, IU interim vice president for research and dean of the School of Informatics. "The foundation that has been built in the last 10 years has made IU a leading competitor for these very large federal projects and grants."

The FutureGrid team will be led by Geoffrey C. Fox, director of the Pervasive Technology Institute (PTI) Digital Science Center and a professor in the IU Bloomington School of Informatics and Computing.

"FutureGrid will serve as a proving ground for new, distributed computing systems and will open up exciting new avenues for scientific collaboration and research," Fox said. "We envision the grids and clouds of the future not as a single system, but as many linked systems. For this reason we are engaging an incredible set of academic and commercial partners throughout the U.S. and in Europe to participate in FutureGrid."

Acquisition of new computing equipment is already under way. The new network is expected to be installed and fully operational by next spring.