Mt. Vernon Register-News

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March 27, 2013

U of I supercomputer running after project doubts

(Continued)

There are also those 30-plus cabinets — they sit on a tiled floor that's raised six feet to accommodate the cooling system that such as massive computer requires. Kramer lifts one of those heavy, concrete-reinforced tiles to reveal a ladder, climbing down and — shouting over the continuous, loud hum from above — shows off hundreds of yards of pipe carrying a constant flow cold water — thousands of gallons of it a minute.

There's evidence down here of how far along IBM was when it pulled out — Dunning points out a sort of long basket installed to hold cable's for IBM's computer. Cray doesn't use them, stringing its cables over the computer cabinets instead.

Blue Waters also has a 300-petabyte storage system. According to Dunning, "The amount of storage we have and the bandwith of storage we have in the Blue Waters system, as far as we know, is the largest, most intense in the world."

Thomas Jordan is director of the Southern California Earthquake Center at the University of Southern California and one of the early users of Blue Waters, a sort of beta tester.

He's working with others on a project to simulate the range of possible outcomes of earthquakes along hundreds of fault lines in Southern California.

"Our ambition is to eventually do this for all of California," he said. Blue Waters has, so far, provided a mostly smooth ride aside from a few glitches, he said.

Other projects are studying everything from how stars explode to how viruses affect cells and how contagious diseases spread.

They all amount to a great reward — and a huge relief — for Kramer and Dunning, particularly Dunning, who will retire later this year.

"It's very nice to have a big computer room that actually has a computer in it," said the understated Dunning. For a time, "it looked very lonely."

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