The University of Arizona

New Computing Center Triples Processing Power

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications | February 22, 2012

The UA's new Research Data Center is an advanced computer facility that triples the institution's prior capacity to host centralized large computer clusters.

Among the computing upgrades now available through UA's newly launched Research Data Center are five powerful computers, which contain more than 6,000 processors. (Photo credit: Gary Mackender)
Among the computing upgrades now available through UA's newly launched Research Data Center are five powerful computers, which contain more than 6,000 processors. (Photo credit: Gary Mackender)
Adam Michel, UITS senior systems administrator, provides a tour of the new Research Data Center to UA President Eugene G. Sander and Provost Jacqueline Mok. Scientific research, particularly the kind done at the UA, relies upon HPC/HTC capacity to hold and analyze the multitude of data collected during research. These services are open to any faculty, researcher or student. (Photo credit: Travis Mohney)
Adam Michel, UITS senior systems administrator, provides a tour of the new Research Data Center to UA President Eugene G. Sander and Provost Jacqueline Mok. Scientific research, particularly the kind done at the UA, relies upon HPC/HTC capacity to hold and analyze the multitude of data collected during research. These services are open to any faculty, researcher or student. (Photo credit: Travis Mohney)

University researchers now have access to more computing power – about three times the processing capacity as before – with the creation of the new Research Data Center.

Partly funded by the Technology and Research Initiative Fund, the new facility is securely housed in the basement of the UA's Computer Center and places at the hands of University of Arizona researchers the ability to analyze, simulate or model massive datasets in hours rather than days, weeks or even longer.

A grand opening and ribbon cutting will be held Monday, 4:30-5:30 p.m., at the Computer Center, 1077 N. Highland Ave. The event is open to all, and UA researchers are especially encouraged to attend.

The facility, known as RDC, features state-of-the art High Performance (HPC) and High Throughput (HTC) computers, 350 terabytes of high-performance disk space and redundant power and cooling, providing dependable computing resources.  

"We have over $600 million in research activity each year, and many of our large research programs have large research computing needs," said Leslie Tolbert, senior vice president for research.

The UA’s Research Computing Services specialists consult in the areas of scientific visualization, statistical analysis and the use of the HPC/HTC systems. The research computing staff works with individuals and teams of researchers to tailor computing resources to each project's needs. 

Also, the center, which has around the clock security, will be governed by a committee of research faculty and UITS personnel who will monitor and update, when necessary, policies and procedures. UITS client and infrastructure services employees will maintain and administer resources.

All UA faculty, staff and students are eligible to access the research computing systems. Account applications may be made online; more information on necessary procedures is available via the Research Computing website

As a centrally funded system, access is provided to qualified campus users at no charge. However researchers and grant-funded projects have the option to purchase additional computing resources dedicated for their high-priority use. 

The purchase of research computers and construction of the new centralized facility was driven by the need to keep the institution, given its research mission and function, at the forefront of computing power while enabling the UA to more readily attract and retain top faculty and students "who increasingly need ready access to major computational resources," Tolbert said. 

"The data researchers can generate in a day in 2012 was unimaginable just a decade ago. Now the problem is how to analyze those data to make the most of the information they contain," Tolbert said

While today's technology allows researchers to use computers around the world for data analysis, "some of the work is best done under local control, where the investigator programs his or her own time for a job and works with IT talent to get the most out of the computational power that is available," Tolbert said. 

"Our faculty should be more competitive for external funding with these new computing tools at their fingertips," she added.

Providing research computing technologies in a centralized facility is an economical and effective way of providing high-end computational resources to researchers across the campus in times of shrinking resources.

Researchers "have a plethora of local options that are poised for the future and readily expandable," said Michele Norin, the UA's chief information officer.

For instance, RDC's several computer system types are capable of breaking down huge computation tasks into many smaller calculations, running them simultaneously across thousands of linked processors. With this power, the research computers can accomplish about 42 trillion compute cycles per second.

The current equipment only uses about 20 percent of RDC's capacity, so there is room for expansion, Norin said. 

Indeed, members of the UA research community are encouraged to contribute to RDC's growth and evolution, adding equipment to the configuration.

"Rather than shipping data to a computing facility in San Diego or New Mexico, which takes more time, we now have a local high-performance research environment," said Norin, also executive director of University Information Technology Services.

What researchers get is an environment with more compute cycles and faster computing power able to handle large amounts of data, Norin said. "For the research community to be able to analyze more data over a shorter period of time allows them to achieve their research goals faster." 

And that benefits the whole of the University's research community working with large datasets, whether in the natural or social sciences, engineering or the humanities.

Ben Reynwar, who holds a postdoctoral position in the UA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, has utilized the University's computing services and has already seen strong benefits.

Reynwar said: "The ability to run parallelizable calculations on many processors simultaneously means that I can get my results back quickly, allowing me to use my time more efficiently."

For that reason, along with others, RDC will serve as a tremendous boon to research activities on campus, Norin said.  

"Having a showcase facility like this is a good investment and is definitely a benefit to this institution," she added. "And to be able to support our researchers in this way is a huge achievement."

Ellisa Pavlish, a technical writer and graduate student in the UA College of Education, and Richard Holland, a communications and marketing manager for University Information Technology Services, contributed to this article.

Contacts

Richard Holland

University Information Technology Services

520-626-8178

raholland@email.arizona.edu