Carnegie Mellon University
October 17, 2012

News Brief: Carnegie Mellon Helps Launch Computer Systems Research Center in New Mexico

Contact: Byron Spice / 412-268-9068 /

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University will join with the New Mexico Consortium (NMC), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) on Thursday, Oct. 18, 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, N.M.

Garth Gibson, professor of computer science, has played a key role in developing the new research center. Tim McNulty, associate vice president for Government Relations, will represent CMU at the grand opening, which will feature 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.

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

Two of PRObE’s computing clusters will be housed at and operated by CMU’s Parallel Data Lab in Pittsburgh. One, called Marmot, already is in place. It consists of 128 computers of the same class and capabilities as those in a 1,024-computer cluster called Kodiak at the Los Alamos facility. Gibson said the Marmot “staging cluster” enables researchers to import their code, do small experiments and demonstrate to the PRObE allocation committee that they are ready to request time on the Kodiak machine.

The second small cluster, called Susitna, will consist of 34 up-to-date machines rather than recycled LANL supercomputers. Each machine has 64 compute cores, so Susitna will have about the same number of cores as Kodiak. Susitna is now being constructed.

Currently, high performance computing researchers are 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," Gibson said. "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 NMC.

The New Mexico Consortium is a non-profit partnership between the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and New Mexico State University. The NMC facilitates research and educational collaborations between universities and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

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