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Computing in Wyoming

New data center in Cheyenne to expand community cyberpower

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 computing space.

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.

Thinking green

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 as well.

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.

Where’s SCD?

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 Infrastructure.
  • 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 research.

“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 annual report.


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