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including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

IBM grant boosts research computing

By Information Systems Staff

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 22 - March 2, 1995

No, it isn't a big stereo speaker; and it's not the monolith from "2001: A Space Odyssey." Neither does the black and gray tower look much like an IBM computer, but with the help of a $617,000 gift from the company, that's exactly what it is.

The Scalable Parallel Processor (SP2), the newest member of IBM's family of such machines, is actually many powerful processors in one, all interconnected by high-speed data links. Each of the 10 processors in the Virginia Tech SP2 is equivalent to a processor on the 3090 mainframe, home of VTVM1. Appropriately written software will be able to use four to eight processors at once (in parallel) to achieve computing speeds severalfold faster than other central IBM systems. The SP2 represents a significant step forward in the university's attempts to meet burgeoning demand for the processing of large datasets (using packages like SAS), and for faster execution of the numerically intensive algorithms used in computational research.

"Virginia Tech was one of only 27 universities nationwide selected to participate in this program and we are extremely grateful for IBM's support," says Erv Blythe, vice president for information systems. "The SP2 is a powerful, much needed addition to the university's research computing resources."

Blythe says faculty researchers, whether still using the legacy VTVM1 system or the newer processors (like turbo-bits), will be interested in the SP2. The Computing Center expects to make it available on a trial basis this semester and users will be able to logon via the campus Ethernet to transfer datasets and prepare jobs for batch submission. Applications presently running under AIX should be able to run serially on the SP2 with few, if any, changes. Those who wish to convert their jobs to take advantage of the parallel environment will need to make some modifications to their FORTRAN or C code. Libraries containing subroutines to parallelize code will be available.

"IBM wants to explore with us possibilities for joint research projects," says Blythe, "to find out what kinds of research can be done with such a machine."

Faculty may obtain accounts on the SP2 by submitting an abstract describing the research that is the basis of the computing project. The inclusion of related journal publications and preprints is welcomed. Questions and proposals may be sent to 4help@vt.edu or directly to Bill Sydor (wsydor@vt.edu), senior programmer analyst in the Computing Center, who will lead support efforts for the SP2. System specifications and additional technical details also are available on the Virginia Tech Gopher (gopher.vt.edu) under "Computing Center".

The abstracts will be used to help affirm support for research computing and define upgrade requirements.