Promising to propel academics and economics into their boldest partnership yet, the first Louisiana Optical Network Initiative "grid" computer was delivered to Louisiana Tech this week.
Tech’s IBM P5-575 server was the first deployed from the LONI project. Next in line to take delivery of their P5s are University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of New Orleans, Tulane University and Southern University.
LONI is a fiber-optics network that will interconnect mainframe computers at Louisiana’s major research universities, allowing communication speeds several thousands time faster than currently possible.
How fast? Faster than a speeding bullet or the blink of an eye, said Dr. Sumeet Dua, an assistant professor of computer science at Tech, who called the P5 by its “Bluedawg” nickname (reference Tech blue/Tech Bulldogs).
“In the time it takes a bullet to travel one foot, Bluedawg will complete 330 million calculations; in the time it takes to blink, the computer will complete 20 billion calculations,” he said, adding that “using our high-speed optical fiber, we can transfer the entire Library of Congress from one coast to another in about 38 minutes. Using a standard cable modem, that would take almost two years.”
Tech’s vice president for research and development, Dr. Les Guice, is chairman of the LONI Management Council. He said the arrival of the high-performance computer marked an important milestone toward getting LONI infrastructure into place in Louisiana to support the state’s research community
“All the machines were first delivered to LSU for testing, and this is the first one to be installed outside of LSU,” he said. “It shows we are continuing to build out the LONI network and provide access to high-performing computing for our faculty.”
Users, who will gain access based on a needs priority list, could come from virtually any discipline, Guice said, but will generally be science and engineering faculty.
“Anyone really, though, who has a need for high-performance computing,” he said. “A business professor, for example, might need complex calculations for the stock market.”
He said 30 faculty members have already been trained and are ready to start running programs.
Dr. Ramu Ramachandran, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering and Science, is engaged in nanotechnology simulations whose commercial applications will be hastened with the help of the P5.
Aside from the computer’s benefit to faculty and graduate students, he sees enhanced learning opportunities for undergraduates, particularly in the area of engineering and architecture, and in the realm of videoconferencing capabilities.
LONI’s advent means Louisiana isn’t standing in anyone’s shadow, he said. “It’s the most advanced network in the country. Other states will have to play catch-up.”
LSU communications official Charlie McMahon said Louisiana’s high-performance machines are “bigger and badder” than most and points to LSU’s 124th ranking on a top 500 supercomputer Web site.
“These LONI machines, taken collectively, could easily carry that spot now,” he said.
The P5 is in a class of its own, he said, listing its merits: The powerful machine uses a fairly small floor space; it boasts industrial-strength IBM hardware that is “absolutely bulletproof” and which takes relatively little management and support; it offers remarkable flexibility in program writing and use.
“The capabilities of these machines attract collaboration and bring researchers more tightly into the same web,” he said. “We’re creating an environment that leverages all our universities and helps them to solve bigger problems than any one researcher or university could solve on its own.”
The dynamics of academics, research and economic development depend heavily on technological superiority, said one accidental tourist of the P5’s Davison Hall’s environs: Bob Fudickar, a Louisiana Economic Development official and member of the LONI Management Council.
He happened to be “in the neighborhood” checking out Tech’s new business incubator when he got an impromptu invitation to witness the P5’s plug-in.
“This worked out great because I try to kill as many birds with one stone as I can when I’m in this part of the state,” he said.
He linked the need for the new computer to the business incubator’s first tenant, a Louisiana-based technology startup called Network Foundation Technologies, which Fudickar said needs LONI to help develop its products.
As a direct consequence of LONI’s creation, the Louisiana Board of Regents has become a member of the National LambdaRail, a grid-computing infrastructure often characterized as being to our nation’s technological development what the interstate highway system was to interstate commerce.
Bob Levy, a Regents member and district attorney for Lincoln and Union parishes, got one of the first looks at the new P5.
“I’m immensely impressed with the whole LONI concept and with Tech’s and Dr. Guice’s leadership,” he said. “The whole state has stepped up a level. This will help recruit faculty, attract grants, and tie us into the business community.”
Tech President Dan Reneau toured the computer site as well.
“It’s a grand day for Louisiana Tech and a grand day for Louisiana,” he said. “It means research, economic development, attraction of industry to Louisiana, and it puts Louisiana Tech in a category of its own.”
Chris Womack, Tech’s information technology coordinator, was among a host of Tech employees working alongside a contingent of LSU employees to install the P5 after it arrived by truck inside a crate about the size of a roomy, homemade deer stand.
A lot of preparation had gone on ahead of the machine’s arrival, he said.
“We have backup in the next room equivalent to 72 car batteries,” Womack said.
He pointed out new fans outside the room and a new air-conditioning unit inside that was a little bigger than the computer itself.
“The supercomputer is heat-intensive,” he said, “so there will be 40 degrees difference in temp from a normal room when the air conditioner is running.”