At the University of Texas, supercomputing technology is expanding in ways few competitors can match.
This was evident on Friday, when UT officials, including President Greg Fenves, dedicated a new supercomputer at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus. Named Stampede 2, the computer is the 12th-fastest in the world and still growing in power, giving researchers around the world the ability to perform ambitious studies as the industries that use these machines become increasingly digital.
“(Stampede 2) shows our commitment to large-scale research," said Dan Stanzione, executive director of UT's Texas Advanced Computing Center, which operates the supercomputer. "It sends a message that we are a leader in this, and it helps attract top-level faculty."
At its current capability, Stampede 2 has computing power equal to 100,000 desktop computers. By the end of fall, when more parts of its system are added, it might crack into the top 10 fastest supercomputers in the world, Stanzione said.
The computer is expected to support thousands of research projects and have three to four times the capabilities of TACC’s Stampede 1, which has been at UT since being funded by the National Science Foundation in 2011. Stampede 1 is being replaced by Stampede 2.
Stampede 1 has handled about 500 million hours of computation by researchers around the country. The computer has supported numerous studies into weather forecasts, cosmology, food proteins and other issues. Its data has been used by the National Weather Service and Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory , which has studied effects of the theory of relativity in space.
Stampede 2 is already being put to use. It has supported the continuing work from the observatory, as well as earthquake prediction studies.
It also has brand names as its vendors. Dell Inc., Intel Corporation and Seagate Technology are all involved with the supercomputer.
UT received $30 million in grant money from the National Science Foundation to house Stampede 2.
That didn't happen by chance, Stanzione said. As demand grows for supercomputing technology, UT is a prime position to capitalize on it, he said.
UT reports that since 2005, the number of active institutions using this type of research cyberinfrastructure has doubled, the number of principal investigators has tripled and the number of active users in such research is five times as large .
The only computers faster than Stampede 2 are mainly U.S. laboratories or government-funded facilities in countries such as China, Japan and the United Kingdom. UT competed against other universities in convincing the National Science Foundation that tech-savvy Austin is the ideal location for this machine.
"We've been doing computation for 40 to 50 years; since there were first computers," Stanzione said. "But what's happened is there has been large growth in the number of fields that are computational. Look at biology. Most of the information didn't use to be digital. Now, it is.”
“It also doesn't hurt to be in Austin,” Stanzione said. “Stampede 2 will help grow the university’s presence and feed into the high-tech companies here.”
For researchers, the increased capabilities of Stampede 2 could make a critical difference.
"We're able to solve larger problems more accurately," said George Biros, a longtime researcher who has been at UT since 2011. Biros has worked on image analysis for brain tumors, subsurface aging and other research. "(Stampede 2) is like going from a car of maximum 50 miles per hour to now 100 miles per hour.
"Nowadays, basically any application that is pushing state of the art technology requires supercomputing. The demand for high performance computing can only go up as we try to stay competitive with the rest of the world."
At the dedication ceremony on Friday, Fenves told a crowd of dozens that Stampede 2 will allow researchers here and elsewhere to study important issues society faces in sectors such as health care, climate and energy.
“These are critical problems in need of timely, ambitious and really bold solutions,” Fenves said. “It’s going to take computers like Stampede 2 to make a difference. Cyberinfrastructure has become increasingly essential to the process of discovery across all field of science and engineering.”
Fenves toured TACC’s building with Irene Qualters, office director for the National Science Foundation’s Division of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure, as well as Stanzione and other members of TACC.
Inside the room where Stampede 2 is housed, air conditioners hummed loudly while flashes of green lights burst through Stampede 2’s black shelves. The supercomputer, measuring several rows of shelves, is painted with burnt orange letters spelling “STAMPEDE 2,” along with a large Texas longhorn logo.
The Texas Advanced Computing Center has been servicing research for 16 years.
Before its Stampede computers, TACC for years housed the Ranger supercomputer, which at the time was the world’s most powerful computing system for open science research.
The TACC is currently involved in 196 research projects in connection with 113 institutions.