UI introduces second high-performance computing cluster, Neon

UI introduces second high-performance computing cluster, Neon

Building on the success of its first high-performance computing (HPC) cluster, the University of Iowa has now built a second “supercomputer” that became available to researchers in late 2013.

The UI’s first HPC cluster, Helium, came online in 2011, and with rapid increase in usage by UI researchers is now operating near capacity, at more than 90 percent utilization. In Sept. 2013, the state Board of Regents approved the purchase of the new system, Neon. The addition of Neon significantly boosted the university’s HPC capacity from 3,700 to 6,132 processor cores.

From years to days

The decision to invest in Neon is based on the tremendous success we've experienced with Helium,” says P. Barry Butler, executive vice president and provost. By matching central resources with faculty-generated grants we've been able to build a shared, high-performance computing environment that's available to all faculty, whether they have grant funding or not. The efficiency of this approach to shared investment is something I think the university should be very proud of.”

HPC supports research that would not otherwise be possible at the UI, in some cases condensing the time required to run simulations from years to days by using multiple processors that work on single or multiple computational tasks at the same time. UI investigators use Helium for a wide variety of projects, like modeling flood scenarios to help Iowa communities make decisions about mitigation, understanding how uterine cancer develops, and modeling climate change and airflow in the lungs.

Twenty-five research groups from seven UI colleges have already invested $700,000 in the new system. The university centrally funded the remaining $500,000 of Neon’s total $1.2 million cost. The system has a safe, secure home at the UI’s new Information Technology facility, and is administered and maintained by the ITS Research Services team.

History and rapid growth of HPC at the UI

HPC got its start at the UI two years ago, when the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering, and ITS-Research Services teamed up to launch Helium.

The initial investment that made Helium possible came from a faculty member in the College of Engineering, and investments from a dozen other researchers followed, providing the startup funds. A centrally funded expansion of the system in fall 2011 opened it up to users across the institution.

Users from all across campus

Use of Helium increased dramatically in its first year. By the end of 2012, the system had provided 2,200 compute years of service, up from just 250 its first year. The number of users soared from about 50 in 2011 to over 200 in 2012 and then on to 450 users by the end of 2013, and the user base now represents over 60 units from all across campus.

Today Helium consists of 3,700 processor cores and over 500 terabytes of data storage. It provides over 2 million compute hours per month to UI researchers. At current market rates, utilizing external HPC resources such as Amazon’s compute service would cost the UI over $300,000 per month.

The installation of Neon, built using the latest generation of compute, storage, and network hardware, will help meet the increased demand for HPC capabilities on campus by providing an additional 2,432 processor cores, 1,440 co-processor cores, 7,488 Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) cores, access to large amounts of memory, and 216 terabytes of storage capacity.