URBANA — "Wouldn't it be great to be able to put the universe in a bottle and do experiments?" asked Thom Dunning as he stood before a group of mostly scientists and politicians at the University of Illinois on Thursday afternoon.
"The bottle is Blue Waters, and a team is doing just that" — studying the universe, Dunning told the group assembled in the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Urbana to mark the official launch of one of the most powerful computers in the world.
Here is audio from the launch from WDWS .
Dunning, the director of NCSA for the past eight years, oversaw the installation of Blue Waters, a project that hit a major roadblock back in 2011 when original vendor IBM bowed out over cost and technical concerns. Seattle-based Cray Inc. stepped in, and the supercomputer is now officially open to scientists conducting experiments on everything from how viruses sneak past cell defenses to studying how galaxies form.
"In the world of advanced computational infrastructure, Blue Waters is a game changer," said Farnham Jahanian, a University of Michigan professor who now leads the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorates at the National Science Foundation.
It was the National Science Foundation which first gave life to Blue Waters by awarding the UI with the initial $208 million grant in 2007. The federal agency also is providing a $151 million grant for five years of the computer's operations.
Blue Waters, Jahanian said, "adds to our nation's computational infrastructure by offering sustained petaflops performance and fast and massive storage, and by supporting parallelism across thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of processors."
Scientists across the nation and world will have the ability to advance their work in computational and data intensive research.
Currently 32 different research teams have time allotted on the supercomputer, Dunning said.
"The great thing is the span of science on it," he said.
One of the scientists involved, UI physicist Klaus Schulten, said his team's work using Blue Waters during the computer's testing phase has already yielded research that will be the subject of an upcoming article in a scientific journal. Schulten has been mapping the chemical structure of HIV and will be looking for its weak spots, places a new drug under development could target.
Schulten expressed gratitude for resources like Blue Waters on campus. He arrived from the University of Munich about 25 years ago.
"We had not mountains here, but we had NCSA," he said.
The 683,000-pound computer has a sustained speed of more than 1 petaflop and is capable of performing more than 1 quadrillion calculations per second. It is built with more than 235 Cray XE6 cabinets and more than 30 cabinets of the Cray XK6 supercomputer with NVIDIA Tesla GPU computing capability, all housed in the National Petascale Computing Facility off Oak Street in Champaign.
At Thursday's dedication, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn expressed thanks to Cray, which took over the project in late 2011 after IBM pulled out after cost and technical concerns.
"Sometimes there are challenges and air turbulence. We were able to overcome some of that air turbulence," Quinn said. Cray came in at a key moment and was able to help "complete the mission," he said.
The state spent $60 million for the building that houses Blue Waters and other computing equipment. The university is expected to spend $15 million on an equipment match agreement with the National Science Foundation, plus approximately $13.6 million in debt service on the facility.
"There's no overstating what Blue Waters means to the University of Illinois," said UI Trustee Ed McMillan, who along with fellow Trustee Karen Hasara, local politicians and others toured the computing facility on Thursday.
Research using Blue Waters will yield discoveries that will accelerate medical advances, help predict catastrophic weather events and address the challenges of producing enough food for the world, he said.
On Thursday, several scientists introduced overviews of their research utilizing Blue Waters. For example, a team led by Brian O'Shea from the Michigan State University studies the formation of galaxies and will be running radiation transport simulations. Cristiana Stan and James Kinter from George Mason University are aiming for more accurate climate change prediction models. Indiana physicist Steven Gottlieb is using Blue Waters to better understand quarks and gluons, which make quarks stick together.
Blue Waters symbolizes one of the university's core missions — "we're an incubator where ideas become innovations," McMillan said.
"It's an investment that will pay dividends for my grandkids, great-grandkids and everyone in this room," he said.
Blue Waters vs. your average laptop
|Category||Blue Waters||Average laptop|
|Weight||>683,000 pounds||6 pounds|
|Size||>5,500 square feet||1 square foot|
|Number of cores||>380,000||2|
|Number of processors||>49,999 AMD CPUS (plus 3,000 NVIDIA GPUS)||1|
|Floating-point operations per second (flops)||11,600,000 billion (11.6 quadrillion)||40 billion|
|Memory (RAM)||1,500,000 GB (1.5 Petabytes)||4GB|
|Data storage||>26,000,000 GB (26 Petabytes)||500 GB|
|External network speed||100,000 MBPS||15MBPS|
Source: National Center for Supercomputing Applications