Purdue plans 24-hour supercomputer barn-raising

On May 5, over 200 Purdue university scientists and IT folks will install their newest supercomputer in 24 hours or less in a massive electronic "barn-raising."

The notion to build the supercomputer, which will be about the size of a 18-wheeler when installed, in a single day is to keep the university's science and engineering researchers from facing a lengthy downtime, said Gerry McCartney, vice president for information technology and chief information officer in a release.

The supercomputer's components will be unloaded and prepared for assembly outside the school's mathematics building and brought together as necessary inside. No word on a rain date should the weather be nasty.

The Purdue supercomputer will consist of 812 Dell dual quad-core computer nodes and is predicted to have a peak performance of more than 60 teraflops, which means it could perform more than 60 trillion operations in one second, the university said. Purdue's new supercomputer would rank in the top 40 of the current Top 500 list, which was published in Nov. 2007. The world's largest supercomputer is BlueGene/L, which is located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

To generate interest for the barn-raising on campus, the organizers created a spoof movie trailer for YouTube called "Installation Day," which is a take off of the movie "Independence Day" and can be seen here.

Purdue's current Lear supercomputer was taken off-line and removed from the basement of Purdue's Mathematics Building on April 28. A small number of the nodes for the new computer were then installed to serve as a "bridge" for continuing research until the new computer is fully installed, the university said. Due to the amount of hardware involved and logistical constraints within Purdue's data center, the Lear cluster had to be removed before the new cluster, named Steele could be installed, according to the TeraGrid Web site.

The new computer is named "Steele," after John Steele, the former director of the Purdue University Computing Center, and a member of the Computer Science faculty, who retired in 2003.

Such supercomputing barn raisings aren't totally without precedence. Argonne labs has had them in the past. Its Chiba City cluster was accomplished in a two-day barn-raising where some 50 Argonne scientists pitched in to help build the machine, which first opened to users in February 2000.

The University of San Francisco held a supercomputer barn raising it called a "flash mob supercomputer" in April.

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