'Turbos to speed!' Boston University gains 59th spot on world supercomputer list with new IBM unit

September 07, 2005

(Boston) -- It's fast, it's powerful, and it's up and running in Boston University's computer center at 881 Commonwealth Avenue. At full throttle, BU's BlueGene/L clocks in with a speed of 4.715 teraflops (trillion floating point operations per second), a clip that could in one second produce enough calculations to fill a cash register tape nearly 15 million miles long. That's long enough to wrap Earth's equator about 600 times.

The computational power that BlueGene/L brings to Boston University pushed the institution to the 59th spot on the most recent TOP500 List of Supercomputing Sites, a semi-annual ranking of the 500 most powerful commercially available supercomputers at academic, governmental, private, or corporate institutions worldwide. Among supercomputer cognoscenti, the TOP500 list is considered to be the arbiter of computing capacity.

According to the TOP500 list, Boston University's Charles River campus has long been a powerhouse for supercomputing use and research. It snagged spot 59 on the TOP500 list when the list debuted in June 1993 (for the university's 64-processor Thinking Machine CM-5, the model of supercomputer featured in the movie "Jurassic Park") and has maintained a presence in all but four TOP500 lists since 1993. The TOP500 ranking for BU's Charles River campus most recently spiked to position 232 in June 2002 when the university acquired a cluster of IBM's pSeries 690 systems.

The care and maintenance of the new BlueGene/L, purchased in part with an $800,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, is the shared responsibility of the university's Center for Computational Science (CCS), a center in the university's Office of the Provost, and the Scientific Computing and Visualization (SCV) group of BU's Office of Information Technology. The two units jointly oversee all high-performance computing resources on the university's Charles River campus. The CCS is directed by Claudio Rebbi, a professor of physics at BU. The director of the SCV is Glenn Bresnahan.

BU scientists are tapping the power of the BlueGene/L for research in disciplines that range from subnuclear physics to genetics and cellular biology to the modeling of space weather and ocean systems. Certain Boston University professors are, for example, using BlueGene/L to explore quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of the mysterious force that holds quarks inside nuclear particles, information that is key to describing what goes on at high-energy accelerators.

Other BU researchers are using the supercomputer's power to analyze data that can help scientists predict space weather -- how activities on the surface of the sun, such as solar flares, affect Earth's radiation belt, its upper atmosphere, and the ionosphere. These effects include disruptions in communications, disturbances to power grids, and outages in global navigational systems. In all, approximately 500 researchers will use BlueGene/L for the computational analysis of their scientific data.

The TOP500 project (http://www.top500.org) was started in 1993 to provide a reliable basis for tracking and detecting trends in high-performance computing. Each June and November, a list of sites operating the 500 most powerful computer systems is assembled and released. To build each list, compilers poll high-performance computer experts, computational scientists, manufacturers, and the Internet community in general.
Founded in 1990, Boston University's Center for Computational Science (http://ccs.bu.edu/) seeks to coordinate and promote computationally based research, foster computational science education, and increase opportunities for the expansion of computational resources and support. The Scientific Computing and Visualization (http://scv.bu.edu/SCV/) group provides specialized computing and communication resources geared toward research and education in computational science and engineering, scientific visualization, computer graphics, supercomputing and other disciplines that have high-performance computing requirements.

Boston University, with an enrollment of more than 30,000 in its 17 schools and colleges, is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States.

Boston University

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