One-of-a-Kind Center Opens

One-of-a-Kind Center OpensGarth Gibson

Prof. Garth Gibson

Carnegie Mellon University recently joined the New Mexico Consortium (NMC), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to celebrate the opening of the PRObE (Parallel Reconfigurable Observational Environment) Center, a one-of-a-kind computer systems research center located in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

A joint project of Carnegie Mellon, LANL and NMC, it will be the world's first facility where computer systems researchers have access to a dedicated large scale supercomputer where disruptive — and even destructive — testing can be done.

The PRObE Center includes 2,048 recently retired computers from LANL and was established with a $10 million NSF grant.

A smaller cluster of retired LANL computers is already operational at CMU and a second cluster of new machines is being constructed here.

Currently, high performance computing research is limited to using small clusters, or renting virtual machines in large, shared cloud clusters, to test the systems they develop. 

"Unless they leave universities for government or industry jobs, researchers and students rarely have access to these expensive large-scale clusters," said Garth Gibson, CMU professor of computer science and key player in the development of this new center. "That means they don't get the training and education necessary to develop innovations for the fast-approaching era of exascale computing."

"Moreover, when a supercomputer is new, it's immediately needed for applications research," Gibson continued. "So even when they do get permission to use larger clusters, systems scientists can't run experiments on low-level hardware and purposely break these machines to see what happens."

LANL's deputy division leader for High Performance Computing, Gary Grider, got the idea for the PRObE center several years ago while decommissioning some machines.

Grider developed the idea further with Gibson and the NSF subsequently approved funding. After two years of construction, moving computers and testing operations, the PRObE Center is now ready to begin hosting researchers in Los Alamos.

Researchers will be given dedicated use of the PRObE clusters for days, even weeks at a time. They will be allowed to replace any and all of the code and even inject faults that might be destructive to some equipment.

PRObE includes a focused educational component targeting undergraduate students nationally. The Computer System, Cluster, and Networking Summer Institute is a nine-week program that emphasizes practical skill development in setting up, configuring, administering, testing, monitoring, and scheduling computer systems, supercomputer clusters, and computer networks.

This innovative and highly successful program was developed and piloted by LANL's Information Science and Technology Institute (ISTI). It has been incorporated into the PRObE Center and is now jointly managed by ISTI and the New Mexico Consortium.

The PRObE Center opening celebration in Los Alamos, New Mexico featured keynote addresses by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, LANL Director Charlie McMillan and Keith Marzullo, director of the CISE Division of Computer and Network Systems at NSF.

Related Links: Read the release | School of Computer Science | Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center