Friday, May 24, 2013

The Essentials for Modeling a Sustainable Future

Tim Brewer, a consultant, shows EPSCoR intern Robin Rasmussen Mt. Moran

How do you model a sustainable future?
This is part of what CI-WATER collaborators will be discussing at the Second Annual CI-WATER Symposium next week, and the answer, in part, lies within racks of black, plastic, electronic boxes, called nodes. These boxes, complete with rows of blinking lights, may not look impressive on the outside, but they make up the supercomputers housed in Wyoming and Utah, which are vital to CI-WATER research.
A supercomputer is a collection of normal computers which operates faster and allows for higher quality computational research. One such supercomputer used by CI-WATER is Mt. Moran, housed at the University of Wyoming. Mt. Moran, which was put into production in February 2013, is an important addition to research resources at UW, because it is the first supercomputer available solely to UW researchers and their collaborators. It has opened up research capabilities and is changing the way researchers do computational research at UW.
The storage space called Bighorn
“Before, what people were doing was running computational analysis at their workstations at their desks or making small clusters,” says Timothy Kuhfuss, the director of the Advanced Research Computing Center (ARCC).
Computational analysis on these systems was slow and often required graduate students on big research projects to manage these systems when their time and skills may have been better used elsewhere. These graduate students can now work on Mt. Moran, along with their faculty advisers and UW collaborators, such as CI-WATER partners in Utah. Without this resource, researchers on the CI-WATER grant would have a harder time developing the models which will help them better understand water resources in the western United States.
Mt. Moran’s location on the UW campus is just as important as its capabilities because it adds to the environment ARCC strives for in assisting its users.
Mt. Moran
“People like someone local to work with,” says Kuhfuss. “Rather than work with someone across the country, they can literally walk into the office down the hall here and talk with one of our consultants.”
Working one on one with consultants is part of the process when using Mt. Moran and allows for more personalized use of the computing capabilities.
“We want to make it real simple,” says Kuhfuss. “Once researchers apply for an account and have one on the machine, we set up a project space for them. Then, they can look at the ‘how-to’ documentation on the webpage that we point them to. Or, if they’re not the type who wants to use those resources, they can come to our offices and sit down with a consultant who will just get them going.”
Mt. Moran requires far more power than normal computing systems
To date, Mt. Moran is at 98% of its capacity and is used by 115 researchers. CI-WATER researchers at UW rely on this resource to do the base work for their models, which they then move to the bigger NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) outside of Cheyenne, WY. These supercomputers allow for all CI-WATER researchers to examine and evaluate the future of water in the west, through the creation of models for a sustainable future.

By Kali S. McCrackin
Photos by Kali S. McCrackin

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