IBM Inks Blue Gene Supercomputer Deals With Rice, Rutgers Universities

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2012-03-30

IBM Inks Blue Gene Supercomputer Deals With Rice, Rutgers Universities

IBM has had a busy week with academia, announcing partnerships with both Rice University and Rutgers University to advance supercomputing at their institutions and in their home states of Texas and New Jersey, respectively.

On March 30, IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Rice University announced a partnership to build the first IBM Blue Gene supercomputer in Texas. Rice also announced a related collaboration agreement with the University of Sao Paulo (USP) in Brazil to initiate the shared administration and use of the Blue Gene supercomputer, which allows both institutions to share the benefits of the new computing resource.

IBM officials said Rice faculty will use the Blue Gene to further their own research and to collaborate with academic and industry partners on a broad range of science and engineering questions related to energy, geophysics, basic life sciences, cancer research, personalized medicine and more.

The collaborative agreement securing Brazil's share of time on Rice's Blue Gene was signed in Sao Paulo March 27 by a delegation that included Rice President David Leebron and USP President Joao Grandino Rodas. Leebron is traveling with a delegation led by Houston Mayor Annise Parker. The delegation includes Rice Provost George McLendon, Greater Houston Partnership (GHP) President and CEO Jeff Moseley and other GHP members.

"Collaboration and partnership have a unique place in Rice's history as a pre-eminent research university, and it is fitting that Rice begins its second century with two innovative partnerships that highlight the university's commitments to expanding our international reach, strengthening our research and building stronger ties with our home city," Leebron said in a statement.

USP is Brazil's largest institution of higher education and research, and Rodas said the agreement represents an important bond between Rice and USP. "The joint utilization of the supercomputer by Rice University and USP, much more than a simple sharing of high-tech equipment, means the strength of an effective partnership between both universities," he said.

Mayor Parker, a 1978 Rice alumna, said, "When I was at Rice, it looked inward. Today, it looks outward through this agreement. It strengthens not only Rice University but also the city of Houston."

Rice's new Blue Gene supercomputer, which has yet to be named, is slated to become operational in May. It is based on IBM's POWER processor technology, which was developed in part at the company's Austin, Texas, labs. Rice and IBM shared the cost of the system.

High-Performance Computers Are Crucial in Science, Engineering


"High-performance computers like the IBM Blue Gene/P are critical in virtually every discipline of science and engineering, and we are grateful for IBM's help in bringing this resource to Rice," Provost McLendon said in a statement. "For individual faculty, the supercomputer will open the door to new areas of research. The Blue Gene also opens doors for Rice as the university seeks to establish institutional relationships both in our home city and with critical international partners like USP."

Unlike the typical desktop or laptop computer, which has a single microprocessor, supercomputers typically contain thousands of processors. This makes them ideal for scientists who study complex problems, because jobs can be divided among all the processors and run in a matter of seconds rather than weeks or months. Supercomputers are used to simulate things that cannot be reproduced in a laboratory€”like the Earth's climate or the collision of galaxies€”and to examine vast databases like those used to map underground oil reservoirs or to develop personalized medical treatments.

USP officials said they expect their faculty to use the supercomputer for research, ranging from astronomy and weather prediction to particle physics and biotechnology.

"This significant investment by IBM is the result of a long-standing collaborative initiative with Rice where together we have developed a unique and substantial computational resource for the research community in Houston, across the country and around the world," said Tony Befi, IBM€™s senior state executive for Texas, in a statement. "This new computing capability will speed the search for new sources of energy, new ways of maximizing current energy sources, new cancer drugs and new routes to personalized medicine. So we're excited that Rice has now joined an exclusive club of the world's top research organizations who use powerful and energy-efficient Blue Gene supercomputers to solve some of the world's most pressing problems."

In 2009, President Obama recognized IBM and its Blue Gene family of supercomputers with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the most prestigious award in the United States given to leading innovators for technological achievement, IBM said.

Including the Blue Gene/P, Rice has partnered with IBM to launch three supercomputers during the past two years that have more than quadrupled Rice's high-performance computing (HPC) capabilities. The addition of the Blue Gene/P doubles the number of supercomputing CPU hours that Rice can offer. The six-rack system contains nearly 25,000 processor cores that are capable of conducting about 84 trillion mathematical computations each second. When fully operational, the system is expected to rank among the world's 300 fastest supercomputers as measured by the TOP500 supercomputer rankings.

Meanwhile, on March 27, Rutgers teamed with IBM to launch a HPC center at the university focused on the application of big data analytics in life sciences, finance and other industries. The center is aimed at improving the economic competitiveness of New Jersey€™s public and private research organizations.

The HPC center will be part of the newly created Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute (RDI2) and will use supercomputing equipment and software provided by IBM in the project€™s first phase. Rutgers anticipates future expansion of the center will lead to the university having one of the world€™s most powerful academic supercomputers. 

The institute, powered by an IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer, has several goals. They include creating an HPC resource, with expert support, for industry in New Jersey and the surrounding region; educating the New Jersey workforce and Rutgers students in working with advanced analytics and a state-of-the-art HPC center; and providing HPC resources to Rutgers faculty members and regional organizations that are expanding their use of extremely large data sets. 

€œThere is immense potential here because Rutgers and IBM have some of the best minds in high-performance computing,€ said Michael J. Pazzani, vice president for research and economic development and professor of computer science at Rutgers, in a statement. €œThe ability to conduct data analysis on a large scale, leveraging the power of big data, has become increasingly essential to research and development.€ 

€œJust as important is the valuable new resource that we are creating for industry,€ Pazzani said. €œThe institute will collaborate with businesses that need high-performance computing capabilities but can€™t justify the cost of building their own system.€ 

The collaboration involving Rutgers and IBM scientists and engineers is expected to extend beyond computer science and engineering, to encompass fields such as cancer and genetic research, medical imaging and informatics, advanced manufacturing, environmental and climate research and materials science.  

€œThe application of analytics to big data has quickly emerged as the new foundry of the 21st century economy,€ said Phil Guido, IBM€™s general manager for North America, in a statement. €œIBM is eager to work with Rutgers to help improve New Jersey€™s economic competitiveness through this center. IBM firmly believes that public-private collaboration and research can be critical in ensuring our workforce is equipped and empowered with next-generation skills like analytics.€ 

The IBM Blue Gene supercomputer, housed in the Hill Center for Mathematics on Rutgers€™ Busch Campus in Piscataway, N.J., will be the only supercomputer available to commercial users in the state. Only eight of the nation€™s 62 scientific computation centers have industrial partnership programs. The two Blue Gene/ P racks at Rutgers will be far more powerful than any computer at the university today. €œExcalibur€ is the name Rutgers has chosen for it, playing off the university€™s sports mascot, the Scarlet Knight. 

Rutgers has agreed to purchase hardware and software from IBM, as well as entering into a three-year maintenance agreement for the equipment. As future funding becomes available, Rutgers expects to add the latest-generation Blue Gene/Q system by the end of the year. Rutgers also envisions building an expanded facility on the Busch campus in 2013 as the system and center grows.  

Theres a Strong Correlation Between Having a Sophisticated Research Infrastructure and Research Productivity


Manish Parashar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rutgers and the university€™s lead faculty member on the project, will direct the new institute.

€œThere is a strong correlation between having this level of sophisticated research infrastructure and research productivity,€ Parashar said in a statement. €œIt will enable research at a scale we could not support at Rutgers before and allow students and industry to have access to HPC to a much greater degree. And this installation is the first step in creating a large-scale infrastructure at the institute, so it€™s a huge milestone.€ 

Parashar is director of Rutgers€™ Center for Cloud and Autonomic Computing and the Applied Software Systems Laboratory, and associate director of the Center for Information Assurance. He was program director of the National Science Foundation€™s Office of Cyberinfrastructure, where he managed an approximately $150 million research portfolio, from 2009 to 2011.

€œHPC is a real need because large-scale data is now central to all sciences and engineering,€ Parashar said. €œScience is changing dramatically, becoming very computation- and data-intensive. Large-scale computing is now critical for scientists to address research challenges in diverse fields, from biochemistry and genomics to material sciences and climate modeling.€ 

Margaret Brennan-Tonetta, associate vice president for economic development, has been working with Parashar to launch the Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute. 

€œWe intend to develop a premier center that sets a new standard for industry collaboration in high-performance computing,€ Brennan-Tonetta said in a statement. €œThe institute will be engaging business and provide a valuable resource that goes far beyond hardware and software, offering real expertise and assistance. Industry will be able to come here with a problem involving data analysis, and our experts will help them develop a solution.€ 

IBM said two industrial advisory panels for the RDI2 are being formed, one for large-scale computation and data analytics in finance, and a second for the health care and life sciences industries. The initial meetings of each are set for April. 

Rutgers€™ Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development promotes excellence in research at the university. Research is fundamental to the university€™s overall mission and enhances its education and service missions. Rutgers increasingly is engaged in commercialization of research through the transfer of new technologies to industry, contributing to economic development in New Jersey and nationally. From the discovery of streptomycin€”the first cure for tuberculosis€”to the technology behind, Rutgers continues to make an impact in the commercial world, IBM officials said.

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