When Rob Roy, founder and CEO of the data storage company Switch, asked UNLV a very simple question — “How can we help?” — no one could have imagined the impact it would have on the university and the community. In short order, the answer led to an unprecedented partnership that’s providing UNLV with one of the fastest, most powerful supercomputers ever created, the Intel Cherry Creek.
From facilitating invaluable public-private partnerships to enabling the cutting-edge research that makes all Top Tier institutions shine, the supercomputer has more than delivered on the promises made just a little more than one year ago. And it’s already gotten an upgrade, now making it the Cherry Creek II. Here’s some proof that calling it a game-changer wasn’t just PR hype:
1. Expediting Campus Innovation
Cherry Creek has been put to good use by data-hungry faculty from areas you'd expect — like astrophysics, robotics, and health care — but our students are accessing its power too. Harrah Hotel College graduate student John Lukasik thought his research could lead to a great business idea if only he could get the calculations done quickly. Thanks to Cherry Creek II, Lukasik was able to focus on the answers he needed — namely, the outcomes of 50 million simulated professional football seasons. Working through UNLV’s Center for Gaming Innovation, he completed the calculations for the sports-wagering game he invented, Scoring Frenzy, in a mere three days with the supercomputer.
“The results of the game’s test run were extremely gratifying, demonstrating the viability of (Lukasik’s) idea,” said Mark Yoseloff, executive director of the gaming innovation center.
Fast forward: Lukasik was able to bring his idea to the market with ease and speed, and he’s in negotiations with prospective partners to release Scoring Frenzy to the public.
2. Attracting New Research Dollars
In September, the National Institute of Health awarded a five-year, $11.1 million grant to UNLV and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. The award supports a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence, where researchers will use clinical trials, brain imaging, neuropsychological and behavioral studies, and supercomputing to study Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. It’s the first such center in Southern Nevada, and it may not have happened without the supercomputing power.
Cherry Creek II is the primary computational lab for the new Center for Neurodegeneration and Translational Neuroscience (CNTN). The Data Management and Statistical Core, one of several groups working on this research, provides database management and statistical expertise, collects needed information, and provides the central informatics architecture required to support research. Under the guidance of professor Guogen Shan, CNTN’s primary biostatistician, clinical trials will be designed and data will be analyzed to help the world better understand both degenerative diseases.
3. Fostering Economic Diversification Efforts
When UNLV received access to the supercomputer, it made an institutional commitment to fund a dedicated research network — an optimized network designed for high-performance scientific applications rather than general use. UNLV installed the network and connected its supercomputing data centers in the campus’s Science and Engineering Building with resources at the Switch SUPERNAP co-location data center across town. Networking bandwidth was strong at 20 gigabits per second — twice the speed of the campus’s general computing bandwidth — but knowing the demands that high-performance computing can make on resources, UNLV began thinking of ways to further optimize the supercomputing experience.
UNLV reached out to Switch to see what could be done. Switch provided a $3 million gift in the form of three pairs of “dark cable,” a type of high-speed optical fiber that can be used for a variety of applications, to help the university achieve its goal.
However, new networking boxes would be required to take full advantage of the cables’ power. Enter another of UNLV’s new partners, Cisco, which provided $730,000 worth of specialized networking equipment to the campus.
Thanks to such public-private partnerships, UNLV was able to increase its networking bandwidth tenfold to 200Gb per second — a rate not available in the private sector. This not only bolsters UNLV research but positions the university as a potential partner to companies in need of large bandwidths, thereby supporting Nevada’s efforts to diversify technology and business.
Upgrading a Powerhouse
The supercomputer itself received several upgrades since 2014. For the techies, this has included an additional 48 Penguin Computing Relion nodes, each with two Xeon E5-2640v3, 128Gb of RAM and four Intel Xeon Phi 31S1P (with 57 cores each) to complement the original 48 nodes with all their bells and whistles, as well as 24 Intel manufactured nodes with two Xeon E5-2697v2, 192Gb of RAM, and two Intel Xeon Phi 7120P coprocessors (with 61 cores each).
Now dubbed Cherry Creek II, the supercomputer received a boost to 32.47 Tb (terabits) of total memory and total scratch storage of 46.32 Tb from these upgrades and can reach a new theoretical peak speed of 495 TFlops/s (trillion floating-point operations per second).
All those numbers add up to an astounding throughput capacity, said Joseph Lombardo, executive director of UNLV’s National Supercomputing Center. “It can run an unbelievable number of projects at the same time. These upgrades served as force multipliers that ensure the supercomputer can take on as many projects as our researchers can devise.”
Cherry Creek II was ranked 394th on the June 2015 Top 500 list, placing UNLV among the top universities in terms of high throughput computing overall. Even more impressive: It accomplished this using only 16,000 of the 26,000 compute cores now available. It may jump further up the lists when the Supercomputing Center runs the performance tests again later this year.