Compute this: Work on new UI facility ahead of schedule

Compute this: Work on new UI facility ahead of schedule

CHAMPAIGN – One of these days, fifth-graders will be trooping through the big building at the corner of Oak Street and St. Mary's Road.

Maybe they'll tap the bulletproof glass at the reception window as they wait their turn to go through the "man trap," the rotating door that will get you if you don't really have authorization to be there. Or maybe they'll get to blink at the iris reader instead.

They probably won't get anywhere near the three 10,000-gallon tanks where chilled water will be used to cool the racks and racks of yet-to-be-built computer processors that will fill a 20,000-square-foot room and make up "Blue Waters."

They won't care that the $72.5 million building is within sight of the Abbott Power Plant at the University of Illinois, so the computing center's ginormous power needs will be easily met, or that it's less than a quarter-mile from a chilled-water line that keeps the computers running smoothly.

That one kid who always gets into trouble might find the door to the raised floor and skinny down the ladder. If he does, they'll have a heck of a time finding him among the stanchions, wiring and pipes – unless he bonks his head, which is possible.

When you get him back upstairs, start telling him about the 24 2-megawatt transformers – and point out that just one lousy megawatt will power up to 1,000 homes. You want to be careful about really getting going on the energy-efficiency – how they're using the chilled water, how the louvers on the exterior of the building will actually help cool things down, how the LEED certification that was aiming for silver might wind up with the gold. Too much of that stuff and you'll chase him off again.

Maybe you can tell him about the ditch around the building that's filled with sand, on the chance someone actually gets through the cable-and-metal-beam barricade masquerading as a fence.

Heck, these kids may not even care that it's called the Petascale Computing Facility. If you tell them that it will be the most powerful supercomputer in the world for open scientific research, and that scientists all over will be applying – that's right, applying – for time on the machine, you'll probably lose them after "world."

They probably won't fully appreciate that in November 2009, a year after its groundbreaking, it was five weeks ahead of schedule and under budget. Or that in 2011, the IBM "Blue Waters" machine will be up and running.

And let's just keep it our little secret that the folks at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications there at the UI are also planning for the "exascale" computer project that they're pretty sure will be the next big thing. 'Cause what kid would care about that?

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