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Purdue’s Steele supercomputer makes list of world’s most powerful systems

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue’s Steele supercomputing cluster is among the most powerful high-performance computing systems in the world, according to rankings released Tuesday (Nov. 18) at the SuperComputing ’08 conference in Austin, Texas.

The Top 500 Supercomputer Sites project has been ranking the 500 most powerful known computer systems twice a year since 1993 as a way of detecting and tracking trends in high-performance computing. Steele placed 105th on the latest list. Purdue ranked 319th in November 2007.

Steele ranked first among the Big Ten universities with systems on the list. Indiana’s Big Red cluster was at 148, and Minnesota had two entries that rank 268th and 356th. The Steele cluster is operated by Purdue’s Rosen Center for Advanced Computing, the research and discovery arm of Information Technology at Purdue, the university’s central information technology organization.

Gerry McCartney, Purdue’s vice president for information technology and chief information officer, said Steele’s showing was important not so much for where it puts Purdue on the Top 500 list as for the trend it indicates.

“The ranking of our new supercomputer, Steele, is just another indicator that Purdue is improving its position in the high-performance computing world. Our approach is drawing attention at the conference and of media,” McCartney said. “Of course, we don’t do this to see how high we can score on lists such as the Top 500. We do this to enable our scientists and engineers to stay at the forefront of discovery in crucial areas such as cancer research, global warming and the lack of affordable energy.”

Purdue is determined to continue enhancing the high-performance computing resources it provides for research and economic development purposes across the state, McCartney said.

Many people on the Purdue campus can take some of the credit for Steele’s placement on the list, announced at the premier international gathering for high-performance computing, networking, storage and analysis. Steele is a “community cluster,” funded by combining faculty grant and lab start-up funds and money from institutional sources.

Each “owner” gets a share of the computing power in the machine based on investment and the opportunity to tap more when they need from the shares of other users idle at the time.

“We built a top 500 machine by working collaboratively with the faculty,” said John Campbell, the associate vice president for information technology who heads the Rosen Center. “This machine is all about pulling together a diverse set of people, utilizing a variety of funding and sharing resources.”

Resources like Steele are integral to the research of Purdue faculty members who helped pay for the cluster, like Gerhard Klimeck, an electrical and computer engineering professor who models the next two or three generations of nanoscale electronic devices, allowing their properties to be understood long before they’re ever fabricated.

More than 250 staff members and volunteers assembled the cluster in a single Monday morning in May. Some of them even came from Purdue’s diehard in-state athletic rival Indiana, attracted by the idea of a high-tech barn raising to undertake a process that normally takes weeks.

Campbell noted that Steele recently averaged 87 percent owner utilization and more than 98 percent utilization overall.

That’s one reason the Rosen Center already is planning Purdue’s next community cluster, to be built in the spring of 2009. Faculty and campus organizations interested in participating in the new cluster, to be called Coates, can find more information online at

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