Jan 192011
Authors: Andrew Carrera

CSU has moved one step closer to the world of “Star Wars” with the acquisition of a supercomputer with a main memory capacity equivalent to over 500 student laptops.

The computer debuted on Jan. 14 to over 90 CSU professors and researchers eager to use the new university-wide resource.

“This is really a huge thing for us here,” said Bill Farland, the CSU vice president of research, during the computer’s unveiling. “We are really in terrific shape these days in terms of building our research portfolio, and we’ll continue to do that.”

The seven-and-a-half-foot-tall, high-performance computer crunches data hundreds of times faster than the machines that existed at the university before, turning calculations that once took four days into simple one hour tasks.

CSU faculty and students can now increase the size of their computer simulations and the amount of data collected from them.

“For example, with weather, we can simulate bigger areas and finer granularities,” said electrical and computer engineering professor H.J. Siegel. “Instead of breaking up an area into square miles, we can break it up into square feet now that we have the computer power to support it.”

Siegel, along with Patrick Burns, vice president of information technology and dean of libraries, wrote an application for a funding grant to the National Science Foundation, NSF, to buy the technology. CSU was given $627,326. Of that amount, about $509,000 was spent on buying the machine, with the remaining $118,000 going toward its upkeep.

“This computer would not be turned on if it wasn’t for Pat and H.J.,” said Provost and Executive Vice President Rick Miranda, thanking the pair during the Jan. 14 debut.

The grant came to be when the Information Science and Technology Center, ISTeC, a campus organization of CSU professors from every college, researched the high performance computer capacity of the university.

“We wanted to find out what we have and what we need,” Siegel said. Siegel also directs the ISTeC.

The organization has found eight projects on campus that could be completed through the use of technology purchasable with an NSF funding grant.

“We told the foundation that if you give us this computer, lots of research can be done,” Siegel said.

According to NSF figures, only around 10 percent of grant requests from across the nation are deemed worthy of funding.

Because they were the ones who lobbied the NSF for the money to buy the supercomputer, it technically belongs to ISTeC. However, since the organization explained to the NSF that the funded technology would be a university-wide resource, it belongs equally to all entities on campus.

Officially titled the “ISTeC Cray HPC,” it is accessible from remote locations by anyone who has filled out an account request form and has basic programming skills. The machine resides in the basement of the Engineering building.

“This technology enhances the reputation of CSU,” Siegel said. “Enhancing our reputation enhances our ranking, and that helps attract faculty and students to come to this school.”

ASCSU Beat Reporter Andrew Carrera can be reached at news@collegian.com.


Students interested in working with the ISTeC Cray HPC can sign up to do just that by registering for “High Performance Computing and Visualization” on RamWeb.

  • Course ID: Grad 511
  • CRN: 10735, 10736 (lab)
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