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04/09/1997 07:00:00

Caltech A Major Partner in National Program To Develop Advanced Computational Infrastructure

PASADENA, California — The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) will play three key roles in the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (NPACI) in the areas of management, resource deployment, and technology and application initiatives. The NPACI program is one of two partnerships each awarded approximately $170 million over five years in the National Science Foundation's Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) slated to begin October 1, 1997.

The NPACI partnership, led by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), includes Caltech and 36 other leaders in high-performance computing. In NPACI, leading-edge scientists and engineers from 18 states will develop algorithms, libraries, system software, and tools in order to create a national metacomputing infrastructure of the future--one that will provide both teraflops and petabyte capabilility. (A petabyte is equal to one billion megabytes; one teraflops is one trillion computations per second.) A fully supported, teraflops/petabyte-scale metacomputing environment will enable quantitative and qualitative advances in a wide range of scientific disciplines, including astronomy, biochemistry, biology, chemistry, engineering, fluid dynamics, materials science, neuroscience, social science and behavioral science.

Dr. Paul Messina, Caltech's assistant vice president for scientific computing and director of Caltech's Center for Advanced Computing Research (CACR), has been named chief architect of NPACI. He will be responsible for the overall architecture of the project, including interaction mechanisms among the partners; deployment of infrastructure; and balance among partnership hardware and software systems, thrust area projects, and other user needs.

"Caltech is pleased to be a part of this historic initiative," said Thomas Everhart, president of Caltech. "Paul Messina and the CACR have made it possible for the Institute to contribute to the further development of our national computing infrastructure."

While Caltech will contribute to a variety of software development projects as a research partner, as a resource partner, the Institute will provide national access to some of the hardware used to facilitate the development of software infrastructure to link computers, data servers, and archival storage systems to enable easier use of the aggregate computing power. The NPACI award builds on the longstanding partnership between Caltech and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the area of high-performance computing. With both NSF and NASA support, Caltech will acquire a succession of parallel computers from Hewlett-Packard's Convex Division, including serial #1 of the HP/Convex SPP 3000, to be installed in 1999. Caltech's first machine, already housed on campus, will be a 256-processor Convex SPP 2000, with a peak speed of 184 Gflops, 64 GBytes of memory, and 1 TByte of online disk. (A 60-terabyte HPSS-based archival storage system will also be available to NPACI.)

"NPACI provides the opportunity to build a computational infrastructure that will enable scientific breakthroughs and new modes of computing," stated Dr. Messina. "As chief architect for the partnership, I look forward to the synergistic coupling of so many excellent scientists dedicated to creating an infrastructure that will profoundly impact future scientific endeavor by providing unprecedented new computational capabilities."

The NPACI metacomputing environment will consist of geographically separated, heterogeneous, high-performance computers, data servers, archival storage, and visualization systems linked together by high-speed networks so that their aggregate power may be applied to research problems that cannot be studied any other way. This environment will be extended to support "data-intensive computing." To that end, infrastructure will be developed to enable--for the first time--the analysis of multiple terabyte-sized data collections.

Installation of the Caltech HP Exemplar was made possible by a collaborative agreement between Caltech and Hewlett-Packard that will result in new technology, tools, and libraries to support the type of multidisciplinary research and metacomputing environment exemplified by the new NPACI award.

By providing access to new and emerging technologies for computing, networking, data storage, data acquisition, and archival functions as part of NPACI, Caltech's CACR will continue to pursue its application-driven approach to use and integrate new hardware and software technologies. In addition to the Caltech resources, UC Berkeley and UCSD will also provide alternate architectures initially to NPACI. These alternate architectures will be to explore alternate performance or price/performance regimes, facilitate porting of software, assure competitive pricing from vendors, and provide a ready migration path should one of the alternatives become preeminent.

As the infrastructure enhancements needed to create the computing environment of the future include far more than hardware and network connections, Caltech is also contributing to NPACI through its participation in "thrust area teams," which will focus on key technologies and applications required for metacomputing, such as data-intensive computing; adaptable, scalable tools/environments; and interaction environments. Many aspects of the NPACI technology thrusts build upon projects initiated and led by Caltech's CACR, including the CASA Gigabit Testbed and the Scalable I/O Initiative.

The Digital Sky Project, led by Caltech professor Thomas A. Prince, CACR associate director, will be a primary data-intensive computing effort in NPACI. This innovative project will make early use of the NPACI resources. Large-area digital sky surveys are a recent and exciting development in astronomy. The combination of the NPACI Tflops/Tbyte computational resources with the recent large-area sky surveys supported by NSF and NASA at optical, infrared, and radio wavelengths will provide unparalleled new capability for astronomical research. The Digital Sky Project, anticipated to be used by the entire astronomical community of over 5,000 scientists and students, will provide a qualitatively different computational infrastructure for astronomical research.

Dr. Carl Kukkonen, manager of supercomputing at JPL, reports that NASA is excited about the opportunity to work with NPACI at the forefront of computing technologies. "We will use these computing resources to tackle the most challenging issues in spacecraft design and space science data analysis," said Kukkonen.

Rounding out Caltech participation in NPACI are efforts by Caltech faculty in three different NPACI applications thrusts: engineering, neuroscience, and molecular science. Infrastructure development, more specifically, in the areas of materials science, brain/neuron modeling, and molecular science will be led by Caltech professors William Goddard, Ferkel Professor of Chemistry and Applied Physics; James Bower, Associate Professor of Biology; and Aron Kuppermann, Professor of Chemical Physics, respectively.

More details on NPACI can be obtained at See for a press release on the Caltech-HP/Convex collaboration.

Written by Robert Tindol