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ASU plays key role in powerful supercomputer

February 22, 2008

Ranger, the most powerful supercomputing system in the world and one in which Arizona State University researchers played a key role in its development and operation, was dedicated Feb. 22 in a ceremony at the University of Texas-Austin. The $59 million computer project is led by UT-Austin and funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Ranger ushers in the “Petascale Era” in high-performance computing. It is the largest high performance computing resource on NSF’s “TeraGrid,” a nationwide network of academic high performance computing centers that provides scientists and researchers access to large-scale computing power and resources. Ranger will provide more than 500 million processor hours of computing time to the science community, performing the equivalent of more than 200,000 years of computational work over its four-year lifetime.

ASU researchers have been working on innovative application development strategies, data management technologies and training opportunities in the project.

Ranger is designed to help scientists tackle many of the “grand challenges” of science, from mapping the universe to comprehending the myriad cosmic forces and environmental processes that affect the Earth, and to more fully understanding the intricacies of human and plant biology, said Dan Stanzione, director of the High Performance Computing Institute at Arizona State University.

"Much of our role is as trainer and consultant for users of Ranger, helping them to get the best science possible out of the system,” added Stanzione, an assistant professor in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering. “We also will be evaluating new software technologies that we can incorporate into Ranger to make it an even better supercomputing system.”

The Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas-Austin is home to Ranger. Others involved in the project include UT’s Institute for Computational and Engineering Sciences, Cornell University, Sun Microsystems and Advanced Micro Devices.

The project’s goal is to deploy and support world-class high-performance systems with tremendous computing capacity to enhance leading U.S. research programs. At 504 teraflops of peak performance, Ranger is up to 50,000 times more powerful than today's PCs, and five times more capable than any open-science computer available to the national science community. One teraflop is equal to 1 trillion floating-point operations per second, a measure of a high-performance computer’s power.

At the computational level, Ranger offers more than six times the performance of the previous largest system for open science research. Ranger and other petascale systems to follow will be used to address many of science’s “grand challenges” including modeling and simulations of global climate change, water resource management, new energy sources, new materials and manufacturing processes, tissue and organ engineering, and drug design.

"Ranger is the first of the new ‘Path to Petascale’ systems that NSF provides to open science,” said Daniel Atkins, director of NSF’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure. “No longer used by a handful of elite researchers in a few research communities on select problems, advanced computing has become essential to the way science and engineering research and education are accomplished.”