Storage for high-performance computing


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The storage and server cluster installed at The University of Texas at Austin is a lesson in how to do HPC. Storage requirements for HPC go beyond massive capacity, and include the use of high-performance file systems.

IMAGINE IF A SMALL law-enforcement office computer could recognize images of criminals caught on video surveillance systems or red-light traffic cameras from across the U.S., or if soldiers could locate buried bombs by scanning ground topography from a distance. Those are some of the practical uses that Rob Farber, senior research scientist in the molecular science computing facility at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNL) in Richland, WA, sees in the research he's doing.

Farber is looking at ways to identify specific faces and images from a massive amount of unstructured data and images. To do that, he has used a high-performance computing (HPC) and storage environment located at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas (UT) at Austin. Because of the amount and different kinds of data generated by HPC, storage must be carefully tailored to the unique requirements of an HPC infrastructure.

"We're trying to answer the question 'Have I seen this face before?'" says Farber, who scheduled time on TACC's Ranger cluster to perform his analysis using the Sun Grid Engine, an application

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that schedules and distributes workload on the cluster. Farber says he uses the cluster because "Ranger is much, much larger than the HPC cluster being installed at PNL and shows marvelous scaling."

Ranger is significantly faster than the other HPC clusters installed at universities, research facilities and private industry; it's actually the fourth largest HPC cluster on the Top 500 Supercomputer Sites and the largest HPC cluster in an academic environment.

Farber's work is not unlike that being performed by commercial organizations on HPC clusters: weather forecasting, earthquake simulation, nano-molecules, astrophysics or computational biology. Earl Joseph, program VP, high-performance computing at Framingham, MA-based IDC, estimates that 25% of HPC implementations are in private industry rather than universities and national laboratories.

This was first published in October 2008

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