Students at the University of New Mexico will soon be able to access the kind of supercomputing power that researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory once used for the most complex calculations on the planet.

Sure, it’s a decommissioned supercomputer housed in a one-time car dealership on the old Route 66 through Albuquerque, but it’s also the chance of a lifetime for a student with a complex research project.

As the expanded cooling, power conditioning and electrical systems are installed in the state-of-the-art machine room and former service repair bay, and the last of the hoists and cranes are gone, the UNM Center for Advanced Research Computing (CARC) will be ready to complete the commissioning of the 13-rack Ulam supercomputer.

Ulam is named for Stanislaw Ulam, a renowned Polish mathematician who worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos and co-invented the widely-used Monte Carlo method of computation.

Xena, a high-end graphics processing unit (GPU)-enabled supercomputing cluster funded by the National Science Foundation's Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI), will also come online in the upgraded and expanded machine room.

While Ulam is a general-purpose supercomputer, it is anticipated that many of its users will come from the Biology Department and the UNM Cancer Center. Ulam will enable faster, more complex genomics and bioinformatics analyses, and the deployment of compute-intensive next-generation sequencing pipelines. It will also be used for machine learning and pattern recognition in computational biology, neuroscience, computer science and astrophysics.

Xena will be used for MATLAB and other GPU-accelerated codes in physics, materials science, chemistry, engineering and image-processing.

Director of CARC Susan Atlas in the main machine room
Director of CARC Susan Atlas in the main machine room

“There is more memory on each node of Ulam than on most of our other machines,” said Susan Atlas, director, CARC. “There are also more nodes and nearly 1,000 cores so researchers can tackle significantly larger problems at our center than previously possible.”

Ulam will join Metropolis, another former LANL supercomputer which will also be expanded as part of the current project. Ulam and Metropolis were gifted to UNM by the New Mexico Consortium, through support from the NSF funded PRObE project, which repurposes decommissioned supercomputers from Los Alamos.

The supercomputers come to UNM at no cost, but the task of assembling, maintaining them and making them useful to researchers falls to the university. Through the partnership with the New Mexico Consortium, CARC makes Ulam and Metropolis available to researchers at other universities in the state. Students and faculty at New Mexico State University and New Mexico Tech have access to the system and use it as needed.

Who can use the CARC supercomputers?

CARC works with any faculty member who needs access to complex computational computing capabilities for research or teaching. The CARC Systems group will offer a half-day workshop on March 23 to assist faculty members and students new to supercomputing in implementing and running their applications on its machines.

Atlas says that the center added new machine accounts at the rate of almost one per day last year. Everyone from the Anderson School of Management to the Chemistry Department seems to have a need for high-end computing.

In terms of numbers, students are the most frequent users of the machines. Students must work under the direction of a faculty member, but as long as they are engaged in a university research project, they can use the machines as needed. CARC is supported by funding from the Office of the Vice President for Research.

The center also works with consortia of faculty members to pool resources to purchase and deploy better equipment than they could afford as individual researchers. In 2014, the UNM Research Storage Consortium, which includes CARC through its NSF MRI grant, University Libraries, and several NSF-funded research projects such as DataONE, the Long-Term Ecological Research Network Office, and the Earth Data Analysis Center deployed Phase III of its high-end HP storage system, bringing total capacity for research data at the center to nearly one petabyte.

As work is completed on the expansion, CARC is planning a celebration for mid-March. For more information, visit CARC.