ConocoPhillips donation advances high performance computing at UAA
by Matt Jardin |
This summer, a large high-performance computing (HPC) cluster donation from ConocoPhillips to the UAA College of Engineering (CoEng) goes live, concluding a high-tech collaboration years in the making.
Consisting of more than 68 nodes with 592 central processing unit (CPU) cores and 480TB of storage, the newly activated HPC cluster will allow engineering students and faculty to more efficiently write HPC software. This upgrade is especially beneficial for running artificial intelligence and data science programs, both of which require massive computing power that can strain smaller systems.
“Before we could teach these concepts, but on a much smaller scale,” said Kenrick Mock, Ph.D., professor of computer science, dean of CoEng and director of the Alaska Data Science and AI Lab. “Instead of giving students toy problems, we can give them problems with real data sets that would otherwise require too much computing power. Instead of taking weeks to train a machine learning algorithm, we might be able to do it in days or hours.”
“However, it is more complicated than traditional programming,” Mock added. “Instead of performing tasks sequentially on one CPU, those tasks need to be split up and assigned to multiple nodes to execute simultaneously. Students will get to design and write software that takes advantage of the cluster hardware to solve mid- to large-scale problems, learning important skills needed in today’s HPC industry.”
Mock describes several ongoing research projects that would benefit from the increased processing power provided by the new HPC cluster. For example, using the HPC cluster to aid in camera imagery tracking and preventing the spread of the invasive elodea plant species across Alaska, and detecting buildings damaged by earthquakes.
Originally planned to be operational by fall 2020, the HPC cluster installation was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the process continued as a labor of love by Angel Rivera, who was instrumental in arranging the donation of hardware needed to complete the system, even after retiring from ConocoPhillips after a more than 20-year career.
“This was my passion project,” said Rivera. “Thankfully I was blessed with great bosses who were able to see the benefit to the greater good by these donations.”
The HPC is the latest show of support from one of the university’s oldest community partners, opening the ConocoPhillips Integrated Science Building in 2009 and establishing the annual ConocoPhillips Arctic Science and Engineering Endowment Award that same year.