Green High Performance Computing Center opens its doors

We heat up when we’re working hard. Com­puters do, too. And as big data con­tinues to get bigger, we’re asking these machines to work even harder, which means they require more energy than ever.

The Mass­a­chu­setts Green High Per­for­mance Com­puting Center, a new nine-​​acre, $165 mil­lion high-​​tech center in Holyoke, Mass., addresses those chal­lenges in novel ways. The center, which offi­cially opened its doors on Friday and counts North­eastern Uni­ver­sity as a partner insti­tu­tion, will be capable of run­ning 20 thou­sand com­pu­ta­tional cores with a quarter of the energy required to power sim­i­larly sized com­puting facilities.

At a ribbon cut­ting cer­e­mony on Friday after­noon, provost and senior vice pres­i­dent for aca­d­emic affairs Stevphen W. Director said the center will “facil­i­tate col­lab­o­ra­tion with our part­ner­ship insti­tu­tions as a regional pow­er­house in high per­for­mance com­puting and applications.”

The rev­o­lu­tionary center is a col­lab­o­ra­tion of North­eastern, the state of Mass­a­chu­setts, Boston Uni­ver­sity, the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nology, Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, Cisco Sys­tems and EMC Cor­po­ra­tion, a Hopkinton-​​based data-​​storage com­pany founded by North­eastern engi­neering alumni. The facility’s high-​​speed com­puters will be used to ana­lyze com­plex sci­en­tific prob­lems, such as the evo­lu­tion of the galaxy.

“It was the brain­child of uni­ver­sity pres­i­dents and Mass­a­chu­setts Gov. Deval Patrick to create a super­com­puting facility that would pro­vide a cen­tral resource for New Eng­land to focus on two things: green tech­nolo­gies and high-​​performance com­puting, ” said elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering pro­fessor Dave Kaeli, who is on the MGHPCC Research Committee.

The facility itself boasts sev­eral green com­po­nents. It is pow­ered and cooled by the nearby Con­necticut River, for example, and many of the con­struc­tion mate­rials came from the demol­ished build­ings that pre­vi­ously rested at the site. The arrange­ment of the com­puting cores was even designed in such a way as to min­i­mize heat output.

“Many of the tech­nolo­gies being studied or mod­eled with the facility will target green tech­nolo­gies,” he explained.

Members of the Northeastern community attended the MGHPCC ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday. Photo courtesy of Tim Leshan.

A year before the facility was com­pleted, seed grants were awarded to enable col­lab­o­ra­tion among the uni­ver­sity part­ners. Two teams including three North­eastern fac­ulty mem­bers were among the seven awarded. Kaeli and Hos­sein Mos­al­laei, asso­ciate pro­fessor of elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering, teamed with Har­vard pro­fessor Efthimios Kaxiras to study the behavior of metals and dielec­tric and mag­netic par­ti­cles. Gunar Schirner, an assis­tant pro­fessor of elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering, is working with Boston Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sors Ayse K. Coskun and Martin C. Her­bordt to mea­sure and improve the energy effi­ciency of high-​​performance com­puting. Awardees of a second round of seed funding will be announced in January.

With the center now com­plete, these pre­lim­i­nary studies will begin to move research on line. “It pro­vides us with the ability to accom­mo­date the needs of a growing fac­ulty group that is inter­ested in high per­for­mance com­puting,” said Director.

Gov. Patrick, an early pro­po­nent of the facility, also attended Friday’s ribbon-​​cutting ceremony.

“This land­mark project is a tes­ta­ment to what is pos­sible when gov­ern­ment, acad­emia and busi­ness work together,” he said, “and it will serve as an eco­nomic devel­op­ment model for the state and the nation for gen­er­a­tions to come.”