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KU Advanced Computing Facility expands research capacity, increases energy efficiency

Tue, 02/19/2013

EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to the heightened threat of a major winter storm on Thursday, the Advanced Computing Facility dedication ceremony has been postponed to a later date.

LAWRENCE – Researchers at the University of Kansas now have access to a new facility capable of supporting 24 times more high-performance computing power, thanks to completion of a two-year renovation and improvement project funded by a $4.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The Advanced Computing Facility, located in Nichols Hall, began operation last fall and will be dedicated formally at 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 21. A brief ceremony will be followed by a ribbon-cutting and reception. The featured speaker will be Jeff Vitter, provost and executive vice chancellor. He also is the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

According to Perry Alexander, director of KU’s Information and Telecommunication Technology Center, the ACF replaces a much smaller system that was running at full capacity and couldn’t be expanded. “The ACF will serve an exceptionally diverse range of researchers from all KU campuses,” he said, “including chemists, biologists, pharmaceutical scientists and engineers. It also provides a more energy-efficient and sustainable solution to KU’s expanding high-performance computing needs.”

For example, the new facility recovers heat generated by the computing hardware to supplement the Nichols Hall boilers, significantly reducing the consumption of natural gas in the building. In addition, when outside temperatures fall below 45 degrees, the chilled water plant compressors are powered down, and a passive “dry cooler” supports equipment cooling. This reduces electricity consumption dramatically.

The ACF project provides a major expansion of floor space dedicated to higher-performance computing, adding 32 new high-density hardware racks. In addition, to ensure reliability, the project included a 1,500-kilowatt emergency backup generator, a 500-kilowatt modular uninterruptable power supply and a complete retrofit of the Nichols Hall electrical distribution panels.

“The project ties in closely to KU’s Bold Aspirations strategic plan,” said Alexander. “One of the four themes is `Harnessing Information, Multiplying Knowledge,’ while one of the six goals is `Developing Infrastructure and Resources.’ The ACF addresses both priorities.”

Funding for the ACF came from the National Center for Research Resources at NIH as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The project was led by Luke Huan, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of the Bioinformatics and Computational Life Sciences Laboratory at ITTC. The project received additional support from the KU Office of Research and Graduate Studies and KU Information Technology.



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