Rice University acquires Supercomputer from IBM

Rice University and IBM (NYSE: IBM) today unveiled a new high-performance computing (HPC) initiative for biomedical and life sciences research that features one of the most powerful supercomputers in the Texas Medical Center. Rice scientists will use the supercomputer in collaboration with researchers from across the medical center to study cancer, AIDS and other complex diseases.

The POWER7-based supercomputer is the centerpiece of a $7.6 Million IBM Shared University Research (SUR) award to Rice for advanced biomedical research. The award — the largest for HPC infrastructure in Rice’s history — also includes HPC software, services and life sciences expertise from IBM. Dubbed "BlueBioU," the HPC project will bring together researchers from Rice, IBM and collaborating partners within the Texas Medical Center.

The supercomputer at Rice is the first system deployed with IBM’s new POWER7 microprocessors, which makes it especially attractive for researchers faced with computationally demanding and memory-intensive problems often encountered in biomedical and life sciences research. For example, the system will be particularly useful for genomic sequencing, protein folding, drug modeling and simulations of molecular-level interactions in tissues. In addition, the real-time analytics capabilities of the POWER7 hardware and software are well-suited for mining vast genomic and medical databases for clues to new treatment options and cures for complex diseases.  

Capable of 18.8 teraflops — or 18.8 trillion floating point calculations per second — the BlueBioU platform is as powerful as the combined total of Rice’s existing supercomputers.

"Our vision is to facilitate collaboration among researchers and among institutions by providing a world-class computing resource that’s well-suited to a range of bioscience applications," said Kamran Khan, Rice’s vice provost for information technology and one of the Rice co-leaders of the project.

"It’s exciting to have the world’s first POWER7 clusters here at Rice. The productivity and performance benefits of the POWER7 platform are well aligned with Rice’s future directions for research computing, as well as our ultimate goal of working with the medical center to enhance treatment options and find new cures for patients," said co-leader Vivek Sarkar, Rice’s E.D. Butcher Professor of Computer Science and professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The Texas Medical Center is one of the world’s largest medical complexes. The medical center’s 46 member institutions conduct more than $1 billion worth of research and see more than 5 million patients each year.

Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), a Texas Medical Center partner that is collaborating with Rice on the BlueBioU project, is planning to explore the entire spectrum of genomic change in cancer through the application of genome analysis technologies, including large-scale genome sequencing.

"We are unlocking the mysteries of human cancer by analyzing the genomes of 50 patients with ovarian cancer to discover the mutation profile underlying their disease," said BCM’s Kim Worley, associate professor of molecular and human genetics. "If successful, we will analyze 1,000 patients with different cancers over the next year. This project will have a huge impact on our understanding of the biology of cancer and may identify potential future treatment avenues."

Largely developed at IBM’s Austin, Texas research labs, the Linux-based BlueBioU system is uniquely designed for parallel processing, or running thousands of programs at the same time. It has 608 POWER7 processors, which are capable of simultaneously running 2,432 tasks.

"IBM’s $7.6 million donation is a significant investment in life sciences research in Texas and will help promote Houston as a premier research collaboration center,” said Tony Befi, vice president, POWER Systems and IBM senior state executive for Texas. “The POWER7 is ideal for the type of research performed at Rice and the Texas Medical Center and will help make it possible to detect and analyze patterns that may one day lead to important medical breakthroughs and smarter healthcare."

"We’re proud to be working with Rice on a research project that not only supports IBM’s worldwide university initiatives but is so important to the advancement of medical science," said Bernie Meyerson, IBM Fellow and vice president of innovation and global university programs. "It’s exciting that we have technology available today that can help biomedical researchers tackle some of the most challenging and complex diseases we face."

The BlueBioU supercomputer is housed at Rice’s $16 million state-of-the-art data center, which supports the new green-enabled technologies available on the POWER7 platform. The energy-efficient features of the POWER7-based supercomputer include the ability to create policies and protocols that optimize the balance between energy usage and performance.

The data center is connected to the Rice campus and to Texas Medical Center partners via a new $22 million network with a multi-gigabit backbone and more than a terabit of aggregate bandwidth. In addition, Rice has a new high-availability storage infrastructure that provides multiple terabytes of data storage in the data center.

Rice’s BlueBioU team includes Khan, Sarkar, John Mellor-Crummey, professor of computer science and of electrical and computer engineering; Kim Andrews, manager of academic and research computing; and Chandler Wilkerson, lead system architect.


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