NSF spends a fortune on cloud-based supercomputers


The National Science Foundation (NSF) has invested $16 million to build cloud-based and data-intensive advanced computing systems for the open science community

In a statement the NSF said that high performance computing (HPC) had become central to the work and progress of researchers in all fields, from genomics and ecology to medicine and education, new kinds of computing resources and more inclusive modes of interaction are required.

It has splashed out on two new supercomputing acquisitions for the open science community that it says will complement existing resources with capabilities that allow advanced computing to be available to a broader portfolio of emerging scientific frontiers and communities. The new resources are anticipated to come online in early 2016.

The “Bridges” system will be housed at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) and the “Jetstream” computer will be  co-located at the Indiana University Pervasive Technology Institute (PTI) and The University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC).

Irene Qualters, division director for Advanced Cyberinfrastructure at NSF  said that Bridges and Jetstream will expand the capabilities of the NSF-supported computational infrastructure, pushing the frontiers of science forward in the life sciences, the social sciences and other emerging computational fields by exploiting interactive and cloud systems.

“Bridges and Jetstream offer a mix of new capabilities and usage modalities, from large memory nodes to virtualization technologies that allow a PC-like experience via the cloud. Together, these technologies will let a broader swath of researchers use advancing computing while making new kinds of scientific inquiry possible.”

A $9.6-million NSF grant will fund the acquisition of the system, to begin in November 2014, with a target production date of January 2016.

Jetstream–led by Indiana University’s Pervasive Technology Institute (PTI)–will add cloud-based computation to the national cyberinfrastructure. Researchers will be able to create virtual machines on the remote resource that look and feel like their lab workstation or home machine, but are able to harness thousands of times the computing power.

Craig Stewart, PTI executive director and associate dean for research technologies at Indiana University said that the new Jetstream cloud system will operate at the border between the existing NSF-funded cyberinfrastructure and thousands of researchers and research students who will be new to use of NSF XD program resources. Jetstream will give researchers access to cloud computing and data analysis resources interactively, when they need them.

Jetstream is supported by a $6.6-million NSF grant and will go into production in January 2016.