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Virginia Tech's supercomputer for the masses

Posted: 11 Jan 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:supercomputer  visualisation node  GPU core 

Supercomputing records hardly last. Just as soon as one is made, another one comes up and steals the crown. Recently, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) has announced the HokieSpeed machine, a supercomputer that boast 22 times the speed of its predecessor, the System X.

According to the Virginia Tech, the supercomputer is one quarter the size of X, boasts a single-precision peak of 455 teraflops and a double-precision peak of 240 teraflops. 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 U.S.

The Rs.7.14 crore ($1.4 million) supercomputer is made up of 209 separate computing nodes, interconnected across large metal racks, each about 6.5ft 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 2.4GHz Intel Xeon E5645 6-core CPUs and two Nvidia M2050/C2050 448-core GPUs on a Supermicro 2026GT0TRF motherboard. That gives HokieSpeed more than 2,500 CPU cores and more than 185,000 GPU cores.

To complement HokieSpeed's computational ability, the supercomputer will come with a visualisation wall—eight 46in, 3D Samsung HD flat-screen TVs—to provide researchers with a 14 x 4ft tall display to render data on.


HokieSpeed boasts a single-precision peak of 455 teraflops.

The display is still under construction but, once finished, will be hooked-up to special visualisation 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."

Feng expects that once the HokieSpeed has gone through its final stages of acceptance testing it will become the university's 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," stated Feng. "The next frontier is to take high-performance computing, in particular supercomputers such as HokieSpeed, and personalise it for the masses."

The majority of funding for HokieSpeed came from a $2 million National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant.

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