After almost three months in operation, Brown's multimillion-dollar supercomputer is running at full capacity, according to Professor of Applied Mathematics Jan Hesthaven, the director of the computational center. Spurred by research projects initiated by many of the University's science departments, use of the computing cluster has increased by about 50 percent since Nov. 20, when the cluster was officially unveiled, Hesthaven said.
The enthusiasm for the high-performance computing cluster — which was initially created in partnership with IBM to boost the University's national research prestige — will allow Brown to more effectively apply for state and national research grants, especially because of the system's immediately quantifiable success, he said.
The increasing University and statewide interest in the supercomputer could also generate further investment in the cluster's development and drive it into the TOP500 — a prestigious list that ranks the world's 500 most powerful computing systems — in the next six months, Hesthaven said. Already, the computer is the most powerful supercomputer in Rhode Island, with an ability to perform 14 trillion operations per second.
"It really is a resource that creates visibility," he said. "We're almost struggling with our success right now."
Though the cluster was initially available to everyone, including undergraduates in research-driven courses, Hesthaven said the center has had to limit who could use the system by giving first priority to University researchers.
The computing cluster — which is located in the Center for Computation and Visualization at 180 George St. — is available to outside institutions such as the University of Rhode Island and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., Hesthaven said, adding that other large companies in the state have already begun using the computer for a fee.
Part of the initial plans for the supercomputer was to allow Rhode Island middle- and high-school students to use the facility, giving students from across the state access to a system usually reserved for advanced research. But so far, Hesthaven said the facility has not been opened up to these students because the cluster is already swamped with University projects.
"It's something that we continue to pursue," he said. "But it's something we have to find resources to do."
He said administrators have discussed using the supercomputer to spearhead a proposal for a Race To The Top award — a grant to advance education reform given to states by the U.S. Department of Education.
Brown is also hoping to receive a significant grant to fund a math institute at the University using the availability of an on-site supercomputer as one of the cornerstones of the award proposal, said Clyde Briant, vice president for research and another leader of the initial computing initiative. The institute would serve as a statewide think tank for computational and experimental mathematics, he said.
"Having a statewide collaboration is really a good and healthy and strong thing to do," Briant said, adding that many institutions in the area already have access to the system through secure accounts.
Though Brown is using the cluster to promote collaborative research across the state, the University is also seeking grants for its own researchers. Since the supercomputer's unveiling, many professors have already used the facility in a wide range of grant proposals to appeal to various agencies, Briant said.
"Overall, there's going to be a lot of proposal opportunities centered around supercomputing," he said. "Having a supercomputer makes the University an attractive place."