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HokieSpeed, the supercomputer for the masses

January 09, 2012 // EE Times

After the success in 2003 of its System X supercomputer, Virginia Tech is again pushing the supercomputing envelope, announcing its new HokieSpeed machine, said to be 22 times faster than its predecessor.


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At just one quarter of the size of X and boasting a single-precision peak of 455 teraflops, with a double-precision peak of 240 teraflops, the HokieSpeed debuts with enough performance to vault it into the 96th spot on the most recent Top500 list.

HokieSpeed is also energy efficient enough to place it at No. 11 in the world on the November 2011 Green500 List, making it the highest-ranked commodity supercomputer in the United States.

The $1.4 million supercomputer is made up of 209 separate computing nodes, interconnected across large metal racks, each roughly 6.5 feet tall. In all, the machine occupies half a row of racks, three times less rack space than the X.

Each HokieSpeed node consists of two 2.40-gigahertz Intel Xeon E5645 6-core CPUs and two Nvidia M2050/C2050 448-core GPUs on a Supermicro 2026GT0TRF motherboard. That gives HokieSpeed over 2,500 CPU cores and more than 185,000 GPU cores.

To complement HokieSpeeds sheer amount of computational ability, the supercomputer will also come with a visualization wall eight 46-inch, 3-D Samsung high-definition flat-screen televisions to provide researchers with a 14-foot wide by 4-foot tall display to render data on.

The display is still under construction but, once finished, will be hooked-up to special visualization nodes for researchers to see their computational experiments visualized in real-time. In the past, it was sometimes weeks before all the data from a computational experiment could be generated and then rendered as a video for viewing and analysis.

Wu Feng, associate professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech said the supercomputer would allow scientists to routinely conduct what-if scenarios. It will facilitate the discovery process or accelerate the time to discovery, he said.

Feng expects that once the HokieSpeed has gone through its final stages of acceptance testing it will become the universitys next scientific war horse and make supercomputing accessible to a wider population.

Look at what Apple has done with the smartphone and iPad. They have taken general-purpose computing and commoditized it and made it easy to use for the masses, said Feng. The next frontier is to take high-performance computing, in particular supercomputers such as HokieSpeed, and personalize it for the masses.

The majority of funding for HokieSpeed came from a $2 million National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant, and its hoped the supercomputer will attract more international research projects to Virginia Tech, adding more to the College of Engineerings income.

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