Total Donates High-Speed Computer Cluster to University of Houston

Total Donates High-Speed Computer Cluster to University of Houston
Additional Computing Capabilities will be Used for Research and Education

Dr. Gabriel
Dr. Edgar Gabriel (right) and computer science Ph.D. student Vishwanath Venkatesan insert a node into the cluster donated by TOTAL.
The University of Houston’s computer science department is expanding its high-speed computing capabilities thanks to a computer hardware donation from Total, a leading multinational energy company. The donation includes 128 interconnected nodes that will occupy four racks of space.

“This gift from Total will extend our existing computing resources,” said Jaspal Subhlok, chairman of UH’s Department of Computer Science. “Having more compute resources will not only allow us to do larger simulations and larger analyses, but it will also allow multiple simulations to run simultaneously.”

Industry and research centers use computer clusters of this size to solve problems that are too large for an individual PC, or which would take too long to be solved on a single PC.

“Total is proud to award this donation to the University of Houston, a center of higher learning whose research programs are an integral part of our community and economy here in Houston,” said Wafik Beydoun, CEO and President of TOTAL E&P Research & Technology USA. “We have strong, long-standing research alliances with the university and are currently partnering on leading-edge geophysical, engineering and high performance computing topics.”

Speed and Capacity of the Computer Cluster

The cluster performs 4.5 trillion compute operations per second. “To put that in perspective, think of one compute operation as one addition or multiplication operation. This cluster can perform 4,500 billion add or multiply operations in a single second,” said Edgar Gabriel, associate professor of computer science and coordinator of UH’s bid for the Total donation.

Gabriel says the cluster will impact faculty and doctoral research projects and will be used by students in various course activities. Researchers in computer science, physics, and chemical and biomolecular engineering have already expressed an interest in using the cluster.

The computer science department will also be doing systems-level research. “We have several projects planned that are addressing improved ways for industry and research to optimize use of these types of resources,” Gabriel said.

Research and Student Impact

Dr. Gabriel
Computer science Ph.D. students (from left) Sayan Ghosh, Kshitij Mehta and Vishwanath Venkatesan work on the cabling of the cluster.
Several UH research projects plan to make use of the cluster’s speed and large data analysis capabilities. The research topics include efforts to create simpler and more effective programming models for such large computers, the simulation of molecular structures, studies of thermodynamics at the molecular level, and studies of pedestrian and traffic patterns that require the simultaneous analysis of enormous amounts of surveillance video data.

Students will also benefit from access to the computer cluster, gaining valuable experience that will be beneficial in the job market. “A number of courses require computer science students to learn how to run large projects on this type of cluster,” Gabriel said. “We also expose the students to the management side of these resources – setting up a cluster, networking it, and understanding the systems administration of it.”

Total selected UH to receive the cluster donation from a group of several companies and institutions in the U.S. Criteria for awarding the donation included:

  • Ability to strengthen and sustain a research alliance/collaboration
  • Background history of collaboration between Total and the potential recipient
  • Potential recipient’s interest and needs for the cluster
  • Readiness of the recipient to integrate the cluster within its IT data center facility.

“After thorough evaluation and discussion with the potential recipients, we decided to make the award to UH, which scored high in all categories under consideration,” Beydoun said. Together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, Total is the fifth largest publicly-traded integrated international oil and gas company in the world, with more than 96,000 employees and operations in more than 130 countries.

The computer science department plans to begin using the cluster by December 2012. The Texas Learning and Computation Center (TLC2) and the UH Information Technology High Performance Computing Group will jointly administer the cluster.

- Kathy Major, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics