UCSD Supercomputer Leads World in Storage Capacity

    With the introduction of numerous state-of-the-art IBM tape drives and 700-gigabyte tape media, UCSD’s supercomputer now has more storage capacity than that of any other educational institution in the world.

    Hydie Cheung/Guardian
    The San Diego Supercomputer Center, based in Eleanor Roosevelt College, has become the global leader in digitized information storage capability with the addition of numerous IBM tape drives.

    UCSD’s supercomputer, located near RIMAC Arena in Eleanor Roosevelt College, has been part of the campus for 20 years, attracting researchers and investment from leading information technology institutions. It was already a powerful machine — with an original storage capacity of six petabytes — but the newest storage equipment has boosted that number to 25 petabytes.

    The more commonly used gigabyte, known to students as storage units in their iPods and laptops, is equal to a billion bytes; a petabyte is equal to a quadrillion bytes.

    San Diego Supercomputer Center Director of Production Systems Richard Moore said that numerous researchers and professors use the supercomputer to store extensive data sets and simulations.

    “”SDSC is a national facility for researchers around the world,”” Moore said. “”There are a number of scientific fields — geology, biology, engineering — that use the supercomputer facility to do simulations, gather data.””

    For example, biochemistry researchers can use the supercomputer for calculation-intensive tasks like computing the structures of macromolecules and polymers, while physicists can simulate wind resistance on an airplane.

    They then use the supercomputer’s archives to store large data sets that are sometimes thousands of gigabytes in size, he said.

    In the future, the amount of information stored in the archives of UCSD’s supercomputer will make the supercomputer indispensable to scientists around the world and increase UCSD’s status as a leading research university, according to Moore.

    Due to the exclusive nature of the facility and the type of research it supports, UCSD’s supercomputer center is used mainly by a select few.

    Its increased storage capacity may not mean much for the average UCSD student, Moore said, but it has created much excitement among graduate students, researchers and professors who will have almost unlimited access to data from around the world. The implementation of additional tape drives paves the way for further expansion of the supercomputer center, a costly venture that will not use campus funds.

    “”This expansion project for SDSC is funded entirely out of overhead from research dollars that SDSC expects to bring in for new projects,”” Moore said.

    SDSC also gets funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy. These new projects include finding ways to archive data so it will be available after long periods of time. This is a challenge for the young SDSC, which is only 20 years old, Moore said.

    “”You can’t just put data on a shelf and expect it to be there 100 years later,”” Moore said, citing libraries as an example of where archiving data would be most useful.

    The vast amounts of information found in most libraries are converted into digital formats daily. Unless there is enough space to store all the digital information, it may very well be lost to future generations, according to Moore. SDSC’s role partners it with UCSD libraries to meet such challenges of data preservation. Other SDSC projects are aimed at increasing the center’s arsenal of hardware, and Moore is currently working on a proposal to get more supercomputers for UCSD.

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