$60 million award will bring new supercomputer to UT Austin


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The University of Texas at Austin just secured a $60 million gift from the National Science Foundation for a new supercomputer. 

“It gives us the opportunity to explore problems at new scales and to solve things that we couldn’t possibly solve,” said Dan Stanzione, executive director of the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). 

Currently, there are about 15 different types of large-scale computers deployed at TACC. The latest one that entered full production is called Stampede2 and is also funded through an award from the National Science Foundation. The supercomputer provides high-performance computing capabilities to researchers from across the country. 

Stanzione says the new supercomputer, named Frontera, will help researchers continue studying data on a variety of topics. 

Dan Stanzione explains the setup of Stampede 2, one of the supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center. (Steffi Lee/Nexstar Broadcasting)

“There could be better drugs there,” he said. “There could be new therapies for cancer and Alzheimer’s. We could get better forecasting of hurricanes that are more accurate so we have to do fewer evacuations over a smaller area. We can improve building codes around natural disasters to make the impact less when those sorts of things hit.” 

Dell EMC will provide the primary computing system, which will be powered by Intel processors. 

Researchers have studied Hurricane Harvey and maternal mortality on the current supercomputers at TACC. Stanzione says there are currently three people working on maternal mortality, trying to understand the various factors that predict what likely signs show that the mother may die within the year the child may be born. 

It’s expected Frontera will be 20,000 or 30,000 times faster than an average laptop in solving a single problem, according to Stanzione.  

Omar Ghattas, professor of geological sciences and mechanical engineering, says access to better information will feed into improvements in public policy. 

“We’ll have better models of climate, better understanding of earthquakes, better understanding of medical procedures and design of aircraft and better management of water resources,” Ghattas said. “There’s hardly a field that supercomputing doesn’t touch.” 

Manish Parashar, director of the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure at the National Science Foundation, said, “It will also outline a path forward leveraging an outstanding scientific and technology partnerships to plan for a much larger phase two system that will maintain U.S. science and global leadership in all of science and engineering.” 

Production of Frontera will begin summer 2019 and the supercomputer will run for five years until the next phase.

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