Faster, cheaper, better. These three words could be the mantra for a major project taking shape in the basement of UA’s Computer Center Building. In just about two months the space will be transformed into a state of the art computing and data center for Research Computing.
As most of us have become accustomed, scientific advancements constantly drive down the size and cost of technology while capabilities increase at a seemingly quantum rate.
This phenomenon also allows the new data center to be equipped with new equipment that far surpasses the capabilities of the current research computers that are just four years old. “We are getting twice as many processors that fit in half the space for the same budget as our last technology refresh four years ago,” says Dr. Michael Bruck, Assistant Director and head of the Research Computing Group.
However, installing a new research computer is not as simple as plugging in a new computer at home. Building a new data center is a major project. “These powerful new computers consume massive amounts of electricity,” says Kathleen Bowles, Assistant Director, Operations Center. “And much of that power gets converted to heat which we must remove from the room to keep the equipment cool.”
“We are running two six-inch copper pipes from the University’s chilled water plant to bring cooling water into the room,” says Derek Masseth, Senior Director, Client and Infrastructure Services. “And at the price of copper these days, that’s a big part of the budget.”
Photo by Lisa Stage
Staff in the Computer Center building can expect a noisy summer as construction proceeds in the data center. Once the cooling pipes are installed, workers will begin drilling hangers in the ceiling to route electrical and network cables. “I’m afraid there’s just no way to avoid noise and vibration of drilling hundreds of holes,” says Bowles.
The project includes installation of large windows along two walls of the new data center. “It will be a huge recruiting tool for new faculty for whom research computing is critically important,” adds Bowles.
Research computers achieve massive computing power by using hundreds of individual processors that break up enormous computing projects into many smaller pieces. The data center will house three different computer systems: Shared Memory, with 768 processors; Distributed Memory with 2,112 processors; and High Throughput with 1,128 processors. In addition, a data storage unit with a 350 terabyte (TB) capacity will be installed.
The High Performance Computing systems are research resources intended for testing and running large codes, parallel-processing codes, visualization and scientific applications. These systems are limited to research applications.
In addition to UITS Research Computing equipment, the data center will house research computers belonging to colleges and departments across campus. “Our computers will only take up about 25% of the rack space,” says Masseth. “The rest of the room will be occupied by other users who want to centralize their computers in a facility that’s safe, secure and monitored 24/7.”
“We are setting up the campus-wide governance system to allocate who will move their systems into the facility and how its use will be shared,” says Dr. Bruck.
Once construction is completed, the new computer and storage equipment will be installed. Prior to being opened for use, software to control and synchronize the hardware will be set up and tested.