by Nicole Gordon and Bob Henson
The capital city of Wyoming, long known for its Frontier Days rodeo,
will soon blaze trails into a much different frontier. Cheyenne has
been chosen to host a new $60 million supercomputing center that
will replace NCAR’s overcrowded and underpowered Mesa Lab computing
center. The new center is contingent on a full review by the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR's principal sponsor.
Slated for opening in 2011, the new center is expected to serve NCAR
and university scientists with initial computing speeds of at least
500 teraflops (500 trillion floating-point operations per second).
Twice as much power might actually be available at the opening or
shortly afterward, pushing the center into the petaflop range. Plans are for
100,000 square feet, including about 20,000 square feet of raised-floor
NCAR proposes to build the center in partnership with the University of
Wyoming, the State of Wyoming, the Cheyenne–Laramie County
Corporation for Economic Development (Cheyenne LEADS), and the Wyoming
Business Council. Other university partners may also be involved.
“We are excited to work with our colleagues on this extraordinary
project,” says Tim Killeen, NCAR director. “It is a
major step that will advance research in the geosciences and enable
us to greatly improve our understanding of the world around us.”
NCAR considered partnerships for the data center with a number of organizations
along the Front Range, giving CU-Boulder and the University of Wyoming
particularly close scrutiny. NCAR also looked into leasing space
and retrofitting an existing data center.
“The competition was intense and the decision was not easy, ” says
UCAR president Richard Anthes. “After a rigorous evaluation,
we chose to locate the new center in Wyoming because we concluded
that we could obtain the greatest computing capability for the scientific
community at the earliest possible time.”
The University of Wyoming will provide $20 million for construction,
as well as $1 million annually for operations. NCAR will utilize
the State of Wyoming’s bond program to fund construction, with
the state treasurer purchasing bonds that will be paid off by NCAR.
CU-Boulder has proposed contributing funds for the computing
acquisition pool and for ongoing operations.
“Having an NCAR supercomputing facility in Wyoming will be
transformative for the university, represent a significant step forward
in the state’s economic development, and provide exceptional
opportunities for NCAR to make positive contributions to the educational
infrastructure of an entire state,” says William Gern, UW vice
president for research and economic development.
Cheyenne is located near the Wyoming-Colorado state line, about 80
miles north of NCAR’s facilities in Boulder. The center will
be built on a 24-acre plot in the city’s North Range Business
Park, near the intersection of I-80 and I-25. It will employ 40 to
50 people, says Al Kellie, director of NCAR’s Computational
and Information Systems Laboratory. It’s not yet clear how
many of those staff will choose to migrate from Boulder and how many
will be new hires, he adds.
Krista Laursen, who served as project director for the acquisition
of the NSF/NCAR Gulfstream-V aircraft (HIAPER), will direct NCAR’s
Data Center Project Office. “All of us working on this project
are very excited to get started with the facility design process
in the next few months,” she says.
Environmental considerations are a major factor in planning the new
center, especially in light of its dedication to simulating climate
change and other Earth-system phenomena. The center’s energy-hungry
computers and infrastructure are projected to draw as much or more
power than all of UCAR’s current facilities in Boulder. At
initial build-out, the center will be outfitted to provide 8 megawatts
of power, with 4–5 megawatts for computing and 3–4 for
cooling. Ultimately, the facility will be able to accommodate a power
demand of up to 24 megawatts.
Initially, the power will be generated primarily from “clean” coal
that has been chemically scrubbed to reduce emissions of harmful
pollutants, according to Cheyenne Light Fuel and Power, the area
utility. However, says Laursen, “I think there is a very real
likelihood of securing a significant amount of alternative energy
for the facility. ” The partnership’s memorandum of
understanding will stipulate that around 10% of the center’s
power be provided by wind energy. Solar panels will be considered
By employing technologies that are highly energy efficient, NCAR
plans to make the new center its first facility to earn LEED (Leadership
in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for its design,
construction, and operation. “We’re going to push for
environmentally friendly solutions,” says Killeen.
An acronym known to generations of scientists using NCAR’s
computing facilities has been retired. As part of an NCAR
reorganization in 2005, SCD became part of the center’s
new Computational and Information Systems Laboratory. In
turn, CISL has now carried out its own restructuring, dropping
the SCD label last autumn. In its new form, CISL is composed of two divisions and
one NCAR-wide institute, with the respective managers indicated
below in parentheses.
- Operations and Services Division (Tom Bettge)
includes most of the computing-center functions familiar
to external users.
- Technology Development Division (Rich Loft) incorporates scientific
visualization, computer science, and the Earth System Modeling
- Institute for Mathematics
Applied to the Geosciences, or IMAGe (Doug Nychka) facilitates
connections between the mathematical and geophysical communities across
all NCAR labs and divisions as well as the external university
community. IMAGe also conducts research and supports tools
and algorithms that use mathematics to strengthen geosciences
“This new structure better reflects the intentions
of the NCAR reorganization and acknowledges the management
processes that CISL has developed as it has moved ahead
with the reorganization,” says CISL director Al Kellie. “It
is interesting to note that all three units have important
crosscutting activities. This new structure allows an integrated
approach to them.”
More on CISL’s structure and activities can be found
on its Web site
and in its 2006