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Texas A&M lands grant for next-generation supercomputer to aid in research

Texas A&M lands grant for next-generation supercomputer to aid in research

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Texas A&M researchers in a wide variety of fields will gain access to a next-generation supercomputer in late 2020 or early 2021 after receiving a $3.09 million grant from the National Science Foundation, officials said Tuesday.

The university, following a rigorous application process for an NSF Major Research Instrumentation grant, will purchase FASTER (Fostering Accelerated Scientific Transformations, Education and Research), which an A&M press release described as “a composable high performance data-analysis and computing instrument.”

In a Tuesday Zoom interview, Honggao Liu, director of High Performance Research Computing at A&M, and senior associate vice president for research Costas N. Georghiades said that access to large-scale, cutting-edge computing technology is a necessity for researchers across disparate fields.

Liu and Georghiades said that the FASTER computing instrument can “dynamically allocate” the necessary graphics and computer processing units for a variety of workloads and projects across myriad disciplines, from cybersecurity to quantum chemistry. In essence, Liu said, it will allow more high-level research at A&M to be conducted in less time.

“What’s unique about this system is that the allocation of [graphics processing units], memory and other resources can be done on the fly,” Georghiades said. “You have now this extra degree of freedom to allocate resources dynamically, and efficiently attack these tasks and higher-level programming issues.”

Liu said the FASTER computing system operates with a peak performance that far outpaces the “Terra,” a supercomputing instrument that made its A&M debut in 2016. 

Once purchased — Georghiades said that Texas A&M will provide cost sharing of just more than $1.32 million toward the project — the computer will be housed in the West Campus Data Center. Liu said FASTER will be remotely accessible for experts and researchers throughout the A&M System.

Georghiades and Liu said that 30% of FASTER’s computing resources will be allocated to researchers nationwide by the NSF’s Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment program. They said that other fields that the supercomputer will be used for include genomics, bioinformatics, agricultural sciences, life sciences, biophysics, oil and gas simulations, climate modeling and more.

A&M Vice President for Research Mark A. Barteau described the addition of the FASTER supercomputer as an important addition to Texas A&M’s “already impressive capabilities in high performance research computing.”

“In this age of groundbreaking, multidisciplinary research, it is vital for a world-class institution like Texas A&M to offer researchers access to the paradigm-changing power of high-speed computation and data analysis,” Barteau said in the university press release.

Liu, the director of A&M’s High Performance Research Computing, said that the FASTER computer, along with filling pressing research needs, also will help educate future generations of scholars and experts.

“Our mission is education, training and research,” Liu said. “We need to prepare the next generation workforce to use this kind of next-generation, large-scale supercomputer.”

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