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February 2007

New data center to be based in Cheyenne

The news that so many were waiting for arrived in January, when NCAR announced that its supercomputers will have a brand new home in Cheyenne in 2010.

And not just any home. The center will have up to 20,000 square feet of raised-floor computing space.

NCAR is building the center in partnership with the University of Wyoming, the State of Wyoming, the Cheyenne–Laramie County Corporation for Economic Development, the Wyoming Business Council, and CU-Boulder.

“We are excited to work on this extraordinary and pathfinding project with our colleagues at the University of Wyoming and the University of Colorado to form new bridges of scientific inquiry,” says Tim Killeen, NCAR director. “The data center project is a major step for NCAR that will advance research in the geosciences and enable us to greatly improve our understanding of the world around us.”

press conference

NCAR managers and dignitaries from the State of Wyoming gathered at a press conference at the Wyoming State Capitol in Cheyenne on January 25 to announce the data center partnership.

The computers, which will be upgraded regularly, will initially achieve speeds of hundreds of teraflops. A teraflop is a measure of a computer’s speed that can be expressed as a trillion floating-point operations per second. By the time the new center opens, it may be be possible to acquire computers with speeds measured in petaflops, or a thousand trillion floating-point operations per second. Such a computer is a million times faster than an already-fast personal computer.

The road to Wyoming

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.

With support from NSF and the UCAR Board of Trustees, NCAR chose to locate the center in Wyoming after a rigorous evaluation, concluding that this partnership would facilitate getting the greatest computing capability for the regional and national scientific community at the earliest possible time.

“The Wyoming offer provides more computing power, sooner, and at lower cost,” Tim explained during an all-staff town hall meeting on January 31. “We’ve secured the future of NCAR’s role in leadership computing.”

The Wyoming offer consists of a 24-acre “shovel-ready” site for construction in the North Range Business Park in Cheyenne near the intersection of I-80 and I-25, along with physical infra- structure for fiber optics and guaranteed power transmission of 24 megawatts. The University of Wyoming will provide $20 million in endowment funds 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.

Although CU-Boulder’s offer would have given the new center greater proximity to other NCAR facilities, it would have left NCAR with a mortgage of $50 million rather than $40 million and less long-term financial savings. The Cheyenne site offers cheaper construction costs and lends itself to future expansion. It also brings a transformative partnership to a state that has traditionally lacked opportunities in technology and research.

Environmental impacts

The new center will be the first NCAR facility to earn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for its design, construction, and operation. Measuring 108,000 square feet in total with 15,000-20,000 square feet of raised floor, it will be built for 8 megawatts of power, with 4-5 megawatts for computing and 3-4 for cooling. The power will be generated primarily from “clean” coal (coal that has been chemically scrubbed to reduce emissions of harmful pollutants) via Cheyenne Light Fuel and Power. NCAR is also aggressively working to secure the provision of alternative energy (wind and solar) for the facility, hoping to attain an initial level of 10%.

“We’re going to push for environmentally friendly solutions,” Tim says.

Building bridges

CU-Boulder will serve as one of the center’s founding partners with NCAR and Wyoming. According to Tim, NCAR expects these partnerships, stimulated by the data center, to lead to new and fruitful scientific collaborations. The center is expected to generate collaborations with other institutions as well as part of an effort to develop a cyber-collaboratory.

One challenge the new center poses is that it will require staff relocation to Cheyenne, as about 40-50 positions are associated with the new center. CISL director Al Kellie stressed during the town hall meeting that the organization has three years to consider various staffing arrangements and determine how to best manage staff in two locations.

Pending approval by the Wyoming legislature and NSF and completion of a facility design and review process, construction should begin within about one and a half years. Krista Laursen, who served as project director for the acquisition of the NSF/NCAR Gulfstream-V aircraft (HIAPER), will direct the 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. • Nicole Gordon

In this issue...

New data center to be based in Cheyenne

Climate Change and Islands: Are Scientists Serving Society?

Snow closures: A look behind the scenes

Random Profile: Justin Watt

Images by NCAR scientists on display

Delphi Question: Cafeterias trans-fat-free?

Just One Look


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