World’s Fastest Academic Supercomputer Unveiled in Texas

by Chris H

World’s Fastest Academic Supercomputer Unveiled in Texas

by Chris H

by Chris H

The Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin unveiled Frontera—the fastest supercomputer at any university and the fifth most powerful supercomputing system in the world. 

Funded through a $60 million award from the National Science Foundation and officially launched Tuesday, the system will support U.S. and international research teams as they work to solve some of the world’s most massive advanced computational challenges.

“The system itself is a remarkable system,” John West, TACC’s director of strategic initiatives and co-principal investigator on Frontera, told Nextgov. “It’s an incredible opportunity for open science to have access to a resource at this scale so that investment by the National Science Foundation is going to be incredibly important for discovery and innovation going forward.”

West, who previously led the Defense Department’s high-performance computing modernization program and was once responsible for supercomputing research and development across the agency’s enterprise, explained that NSF works with a variety of cyber-infrastructure providers across the country because running such state-of-the-art systems is incredibly resourced and facility intensive. It also requires a great deal of floor space and immense amounts of power and cooling. 

TACC already has several large-scale computing systems—including the 19th fastest system in the world, Stampede2—that solve a variety of highly complex computational jobs. But Frontera— Spanish for “frontier” and an allusion to the title of a 1945 report to President Harry Truman that led to the creation of NSF—will power even more cutting-edge discoveries. 

“Frontera is different,” West said. “Its audience is really those scientists that need the most capable computational resources, so it will run less of a mix of jobs, focusing instead on scientists at the very tip of computational capability that we can provide today.” 

Through a solicitation first awarded in 2018, the system aims to act as a resource not just to UT students but to the entire open science community, meeting the needs of some of the most massive science and engineering computational experiments that need to be performed. West and his team at TACC have been constructing the system all year. The system will operate for at least five years and in that time it will likely be used by thousands of researchers across nearly all fields of science. 

“The focus is on supporting the entire research enterprise so it is across all the scientific disciplines,” West said. “And this is not just a UT resource, this is a resource for scientists all over the world to use.”

Those who want to run research on the system—and who can prove that they require a computer at Frontera’s scale to solve their problems—will be selected to use it through a competitive application process. The gigantic machines are fairly specialized to run and are highly complex in their analysis and applications, so TACC has specialists on hand to support researchers who will work directly with it. Faculty from the university’s Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, with partners from other schools including the California Institute of Technology, Ohio State University, Princeton University, the University of Chicago, the University of Utah and others will lead Frontera’s science applications and technology team.

“The idea here is not only provide the machine but provide the expertise that science needs to make use of the machine,” he said. 

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