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Purdue installs Big Ten’s biggest campus computer in just one day

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The largest supercomputer on a Big Ten campus will be installed at Purdue in a single-day, electronic “barn-raising.”

More than 200 employees will gather May 5 to help build the massive machine, which will be about the size of a semitrailer when installed. It will be the largest Big Ten supercomputer that is not part of a national center.

How much does 60 teraflops cost?

According to Wikipedia, the hardware cost of computing is $0.20 per gigaflop (October 2007 based on a Sony PS3). One gigaflop is 10^9, one teraflop is 10^12.

60 Tf = 60,000 Gf
60,000 Gf x $.20/Gf = $12,000

Purdue’s computer is being built in a single day to keep the university’s science and engineering researchers from facing a lengthy downtime, says Gerry McCartney, vice president for information technology and chief information officer.

“Our staff thought we were insane when we challenged them to build such a big computer in a single day,” McCartney says. “But now there’s real excitement to be a part of this.”

To generate interest on campus, the organizers created a spoof movie trailer called “Installation Day,” which is a take off of the movie “Independence Day.” The video can be seen on YouTube at

Supercomputers are ranked by their performance in running a complex benchmarking system. The results of the tests are published twice each year at Purdue’s new supercomputer would rank in the top 40 of the current Top 500 list, which was published in Nov. 2007.

The current campus leader in supercomputing in the Big Ten is Indiana University’s Big Red, which ranks 42nd in the world. (The National Center for Supercomputing Applications’ “Abe” cluster, which is based in Urbana, Ill. and operated by the University of Illinois, offers computing resources to researchers across the nation and is the largest supercomputer installed at a Big Ten university.)

The world’s largest supercomputer is BlueGene/L, which is located at Lawrence Livermore (Calif.) National Laboratory.

The Purdue supercomputer will consist of 812 Dell dual quad-core computer nodes and is predicted to have a peak performance of more than 60 teraflops, which means it could perform more than 60 trillion operations in one second.

A group of more than 25 university scientists and engineers pooled research grant funds to contribute to the purchase of the machine; less than 25 percent of the purchase is funded from the university’s IT budget.

“The community approach is a new and cost-effective way to fund cyberinfrastructure on campuses,” McCartney says. “This approach not only maximizes resources at Purdue, but researchers across the nation will benefit from the unused cycles which will be available on the TeraGrid.”

Rudolf Eigenmann, professor of electrical and computer engineering and interim director of Purdue’s Computing Research Institute, says the computer will be used for a wide variety of research.

“Faculty using this computer will be designing new drugs and materials, modeling weather patterns and the effects of global warming, engineering future aircraft, and making many more discoveries,” Eigenmann says. “High performance computing is an essential to conducting research and development, so having one of the world’s largest supercomputers here on campus will be a real benefit to our faculty.”

The three computing clusters that previously served university researchers were taken off-line and removed from the basement of Purdue’s Mathematics Building on April 28. A small number of the nodes for the new computer were then installed to serve as a “bridge” for continuing research until the new computer is fully installed.

An additional 154 nodes will be installed in Mann Hall. These nodes have already started practice computing runs for an international high-energy physics project that will begin this summer.

“We didn’t set out to acquire the largest supercomputer in the Big Ten. Our intent was to design a computer that would allow Purdue researchers to take the next step in discovery,” McCartney says.

The new computer will be named “Steele,” after John Steele, the former director of the Purdue University Computing Center, and a member of the Computer Science faculty, who retired in 2003.

“I appreciate that I can continue to be a part of high performance computing at Purdue and our efforts to remain at the forefront of this type of computing,” Steele says. “This machine will keep us on the high performance computing map.”

McCartney says Purdue plans to continue naming its major computers after faculty, staff or students who have made significant contributions to the university’s computing infrastructure.

“This isn’t the same as naming a building after someone; these machines have a lifecycle of about five years. But it is a way to salute members of the Purdue community who have worked so long and hard to help Purdue achieve the world-famous reputation it now enjoys,” McCartney says.

Purdue has a long history of leadership in information technology. In 1962, Purdue founded the first department of Computer Science. In 1967, Purdue became one of the first institutions to acquire a supercomputer, a Control Data Corp. 6500 (which had a performance of one-third of a megaflop). In 1982, was the second URL registered for the Internet.

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2 Responses to “Purdue installs Big Ten’s biggest campus computer in just one day”

  1. Shelby Carolyn says:

    I was a liberal arts major… our calculators can’t count that high anyway :)

  2. George says:

    1 teraflop is not equal to 1 billion gigaflops. Giga is 10^9, tera is 10^12.
    That price quoted if for a playstation 3, not a research level super computer (despite that fact that some people use ps3’s for this purpose).


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