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Research will benefit from new high-performance computing cluster

By Gary Johnson

Photo caption: UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt talks about a new public-private collaboration between Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the university at a Monday press conference. Pictured in the video screen is Mayo Clinic Health System Dr. Rajeev Chaudhry.

Students and faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire can engage in more high-performance, data-driven research thanks to a new public-private collaboration with Hewlett Packard Enterprise that dramatically increases the university’s supercomputing processing power.

Contributions totaling more than $700,000 from HPE, the National Science Foundation and UW-Eau Claire are enabling the university to purchase a high-performance computing cluster/supercomputing cluster and develop the Blugold Center for High-Performance Computing.

The UW-Eau Claire Foundation secured the in-kind grant of $363,426 in hardware from HPE to complement a $350,000 NSF grant to support the center. UW-Eau Claire’s College of Arts and Sciences and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs contributed $20,000 to the project.

“Thanks to Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the National Science Foundation, UW-Eau Claire is the first university in the United States to use HPE’s Apollo servers with the Cray hardware called Slingshot,” UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt says. “This investment epitomizes the power of partnerships to drive innovation and provide mutual benefits. Not only do UW-Eau Claire’s students gain the chance to conduct research in areas ranging from deep learning and artificial intelligence to data mining and computational number theories, HPE’s leaders and technicians can now pioneer new technologies and receive expert feedback from our talented faculty and staff.”

The additional 61 computer servers at an off-campus regional data center at Chippewa Valley Technical College can do some computations up to 100 times faster than what is possible with the existing Blugold Supercomputing Cluster that has 25 servers in UW-Eau Claire’s Phillips Science Hall.

“As HPE considered where to locate our Global Center of Excellence for Performance Computer Manufacturing, the advantages of staying in Chippewa Falls became clearer and clearer as we engaged Chancellor Schmidt and UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff,” says Adam Bauer, director of Issues and Policy Communications for Hewlett Packard Enterprise. “As a future-focused organization manufacturing supercomputers just up the road from this campus, the opportunity to partner with the university was a no-brainer. Together, we can advance research in Eau Claire to levels commensurate with any major university in the country. At the same time, students will have the opportunity to learn and work with us as undergraduates, laying a strong foundation for future employment.”

The high-performance computing cluster at the regional data center form the Bose Cluster, named after Indian mathematician and physicist Satyendra Noth Bose. The powerful servers will provide UW-Eau Claire undergraduates with even more high-impact learning opportunities as the university becomes a regional hub of high-performance computing, says Dr. Sudeep Bhattacharyay, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

“One of the major goals of this university is to provide research opportunities to as many students as possible,” Bhattacharyay says. “This new computing facility can offer a large number of students this high-impact practice without any further investment. Our hope is that this increased computational power will also increase the innovative discovery of the undergraduate students on this campus.”

The original cluster on campus cannot handle the growing demand for computer processing power at UW-Eau Claire, say Bhattacharyay and Dr. Ying Ma, associate professor in materials science and biomedical engineering. Bhattacharyay and Ma wrote the NSF proposal and received the $350,000 grant.

The increased capacity provided by the regional data center will meet UW-Eau Claire’s teaching and research needs for the foreseeable future, Ma says.

“HPE really is a big deal for us because the current cluster we have right now really limits what we can do in the cluster,” Ma says. “This new cluster opens many new doors.”

Ma and Chip Eckardt, senior information processing consultant at UW-Eau Claire, say computational science is becoming increasingly important in all branches of science.

“Computational science, which requires high-performance computing, is going to be absolutely where everybody wants to be in the next three to five years,” Eckardt says.

Multiple academic departments — biology; chemistry and biochemistry; computer science; geology; mathematics; materials science and biomedical engineering; and physics and astronomy — now use the cluster, but many more departments will have access to it with the additional computing power of the Bose Cluster.

“In the departments of chemistry and biochemistry as well as materials science, there are several research groups that are dependent on this high-performance computing,” Bhattacharyay says. “There are a number of other university departments that depend on simulation, not just quantum mechanics-based computation practices, but other, different molecular simulations. All faculty will have a very strong interest in this high-performance computing.”

The additional computer processing capacity is “really a game-changer” for UW-Eau Claire, says Dr. Rahul Gomes, an assistant professor of computer science.

“I look at this as a beginning of a new era where UW-Eau Claire emerges as the hub of deep learning and image processing in the entire Midwest,” Gomes says.

The Bose Cluster creates yet another opportunity for UW-Eau Claire faculty and students to collaborate with its partner Mayo Clinic Health System’s physicians and others in the biomedical field.

“Medical science has become increasingly data driven,” Ma says. “You need a lot of data to make an informed decision, a diagnosis or treatment. This cluster will be the perfect tool to collect those data, analyze those data and then benefit medical science.”

Seeing UW-Eau Claire and Mayo Clinic Health System working together using the computer cluster may inspire other Chippewa Valley industries to consider how they also could benefit from the technology, Bhattacharyay says. Additional collaborations could help other businesses as well.

The supercomputing cluster gave Alyssa Huelsbeck, a senior from Little Chute, an opportunity to work on coronavirus research while still an undergraduate student.

“The world’s top scientists right now are working on coronavirus research and we’re undergraduate students getting firsthand experience with the supercomputing cluster,” Huelsbeck says. “It is an amazing experience.”