New High Performance Computing (HPC) Setup Expands for Student Use
New High Performance Computing (HPC) Setup Expands for Student Use

This year, the University’s HPC system, or High Performance Computing, will be moving to the Computer Center.  The HPC-TRAC, which stands for “High Performance Computing Technology Refresh Advisory Committee” has decided to build a new housing facility for a HPC in the lower level of the Computer Center. This new HPC setup will not only have up-to-date computing power, but will also allow students to have access to the resource. This is a powerful tool for students who can benefit from using a HPC in their studies, and gives them an advantage that many other Universities do not offer.

I sat down with Joellen Russell, chair of the HPC-TRAC, and asked her how the new HPC system would benefit the university’s students, faculty and staff. Why, in the scheme of things, was this so important?  Joellen, who is a faculty member of the Geosciences department, has used supercomputing as her primary research tool to produce numerical models of future climate patterns. She explained that not only were HPC systems important for her own research, but also for many of the faculty and staff that are on the HPC-TRAC.

The HPC-TRAC is comprised of faculty from the colleges of humanities, social behavioral sciences, science, biology, physics and engineering. “Most of us have funded research,” she said, “We are deeply invested in making this really work for our students and our research for the state of Arizona.” The HPC-TRAC recognizes the need for HPC systems not only from a progressive stance, but also because they have had personal application with the supercomputers and truly understand their value.

Joellen described why building the HPC center so close to UITS was a great idea, “We’re so lucky. On the UITS side, we have people who are experts of research computing and storage. They are amazingly well informed.” In addition, the HPC will be able to utilize a nearby chilled water plant to keep its systems cool. Not only will the facility be able to house a larger amount of supercomputers and transformers, but its cooling system is also a strikingly green solution.

The biggest benefit that the new HPC system will offer the university is its use of ‘windfall’, or downtime. Most universities that have access to a HPC system only allow buy-in users to utilize the system. Buy-in users are generally faculty or staff that use research funding to pay for nodes within the HPC. In a ‘buy-in’ funding model, students and other staff that have not paid for their own specific research within the HPC are not allowed to use the system.

The University of Arizona differs by using a ‘windfall’ funding model, which allows those who are not part of the buy-in model to have access to the resources during times when the HPC is not being used. This not only is an opportunity for students who could benefit from gaining data through the HPC, but also keeps the HPC running 110% of the time. With this model, utilization of the HPC is not wasted in long periods of idle downtime.

The University of Arizona is one of the only universities that allow students to access HPC services without a grant. This opportunity is just one of the many ways that our university provides research resources for their staff and students. It is just another way that the University sets itself apart as progressive not only in research, but in the ways that students can utilize campus resources for their own academic benefits.