volume 42, number 4
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

First Town Hall on Temple's New Hybrid Supercomputer
—By Kime Lawson, Assistant Editor

   Temple's first supercomputer, a Linux cluster nick-named "the Owl's Nest," has been fully operational for over a year now and making cutting-edge research possible across multiple disciplines in CST and beyond. Dr. Axel Kohlmeyer, CST Associate Vice-Dean for Scientific Computing and Associate Director of the Institute of Computational Molecular Science, hosted Temple's first Town Hall on High Performance Computing (HPC) on March 27th at the Liacouras Walk conference suite for about forty attendees. Kohlmeyer described the current status of the super-computer and showcased a few of the projects currently supported by the Owl's Nest's unique computational abilities.

   The Owl's Nest began as a proposal by Dr. Jie Wu, the Chair of the CIS Department as Principal Investigator and several faculty across the University to the National Science Foundation's Major Research Instrumentation program in early 2010 for the acquisition of a "Hybrid High-Performance GPU/CPU system," and was funded at nearly $840,000 with a renewal grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. With a little more help from Temple's Institute of Computational Molecular Science, Computer Services, CST, and individual faculty donors, the Owl's Nest was installed on the fourth floor of the Bell Building during the winter of 2010 by a Computer Services team supervised by Dr. Kohlmeyer. Since the Spring of 2011, the supercomputer has been working at full capacity and is currently available to researchers.

   Hybrid High-Performance GPU/CPU computing combines "traditional" Central Processing Units with Graphic Processing Units into "nodes" that are used to make parallel calculations of very large numbers or complex algorithms. The Owl's Nest has over 100 of these nodes, which are each individual "computers" that are networked and capable of CPU, GPU and GPU/CPU hybrid operations. Because GPUs must quickly process calculations to render accurate images in real time, GPUs have gained the attention in recent years of computer scientists needing to accelerate solutions involving very large calculations. By clustering CPUs and GPUs and interconnecting the nodes with an InfiniBand network, hybrid high-performance units work faster and more efficiently to solve larger and more complex problems because the nodes are capable of fast parallel processing. A complex algorithm or simulation can be tested numerous times or a large calculation can be broken into smaller segments and processed heterogeneously with speed.

   Having a state-of-the-art hybrid supercomputer has already begun opening opportunities across disciplines at Temple and promises further collaboration for Temple both locally and nationally. At Temple, researchers from disciplines such as Computer Science, Business, Molecular Science and Medicine have published cutting-edge studies that would not have been possible just two years ago in topics as diverse as mathematically predicting how a protein will fold or creating stronger internet security algorithms. The Owl's Nest is configured to connect with the network of other supercomputers across the country that are also funded by the NSF, called the "TeraGrid." One of these supercomputers, named "Draco," was just built at Drexel University and will create cross-town cooperation as the Philadelphia area becomes a national hub for supercomputer talent in the coming years.

   Next October Dr. Kohlmeyer will host the First Temple University Owl's Nest Symposium. Curious researchers may email hpc@temple.edu in the meantime with questions about the Owl's Nest. •