Public Release:  Total donates high-speed computer cluster to UH

Additional computing capabilities will be used for research and education

University of Houston

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IMAGE: Computer science professor Edgar Gabriel (right) and computer science Ph.D. student Vishwanath Venkatesan insert a node into the cluster donated by TOTAL. view more

Credit: Chris Watts

HOUSTON, Dec. 17, 2012 - The University of Houston (UH) computer science department is expanding its high-speed computing capabilities thanks to a computer hardware donation from Total, a leading multinational energy company. The donation includes 128 interconnected nodes that will occupy four racks of space.

"This gift from Total will extend our existing computing resources," said Jaspal Subhlok, chairman of UH's department of computer science. "Having more compute resources will not only allow us to do larger simulations and larger analyses, but also allow multiple simulations to run simultaneously."

Industry and research centers use computer clusters of this size to solve problems that are too large for an individual PC or would take too long to be solved on a single PC.

"Total is proud to award this donation to the University of Houston, a center of higher learning whose research programs are an integral part of our community and economy here in Houston," said Wafik Beydoun, CEO and president of TOTAL E&P Research & Technology USA. "We have strong, long-standing research alliances with the university and are currently partnering on leading-edge geophysical, engineering and high-performance computing topics."

"The cluster performs 4.5 trillion compute operations per second," said Edgar Gabriel, associate professor of computer science and coordinator of UH's bid for the Total donation. "To put that in perspective, think of one compute operation as one addition or multiplication operation. This cluster can perform 4,500 billion add or multiply operations in a single second."

Gabriel says the cluster will impact faculty and doctoral research projects and will be used by students in various course activities. Researchers in computer science, physics, and chemical and biomolecular engineering already have expressed an interest in using the cluster.

"The computer science department also will be doing systems-level research," Gabriel said. "We have several projects planned that are addressing improved ways for industry and research to optimize use of these types of resources."

Several UH research projects plan to make use of the cluster's speed and large data analysis capabilities. The research topics include efforts to create simpler and more effective programming models for large computers, the simulation of molecular structures, studies of thermodynamics at the molecular level, and studies of pedestrian and traffic patterns that require the simultaneous analysis of enormous amounts of surveillance video data.

Students also will benefit from access to the computer cluster, gaining valuable experience that will be beneficial in the job market.

"A number of courses require computer science students to learn how to run large projects on this type of cluster," Gabriel said. "We also expose the students to the management side of these resources - setting up a cluster, networking it and understanding the systems administration of it."

Total selected UH to receive the cluster donation from a group of several companies and institutions in the U.S. Criteria for awarding the donation included the ability to strengthen and sustain a research alliance/collaboration; a background history of collaboration between Total and the potential recipient; the potential recipient's interest and needs for the cluster; and readiness of the recipient to integrate the cluster within its IT data center facility.

"After thorough evaluation and discussion with the potential recipients, we decided to make the award to UH, which scored high in all categories under consideration," Beydoun said.

The computer science department plans to begin using the cluster this month. The Texas Learning and Computation Center and the UH Information Technology High Performance Computing Group will jointly administer the cluster.

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Editor's note: Story courtesy of Kathy Major, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation's best colleges for undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation's fourth-largest city, UH serves more than 39,500 students in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in the country. For more information about UH, visit the university's newsroom at http://www.uh.edu/news-events/.

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