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Green High Performance Computing Center opens its doors

We heat up when we’re working hard. Computers do, too. And as big data continues to get bigger, we’re asking these machines to work even harder, which means they require more energy than ever.

The Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, a new nine-acre, $165 million high-tech center in Holyoke, Mass., addresses those challenges in novel ways. The center, which officially opened its doors on Friday and counts Northeastern University as a partner institution, will be capable of running 20 thousand computational cores with a quarter of the energy required to power similarly sized computing facilities.

At a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday afternoon, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs Stephen W. Director said the center will “facilitate collaboration with our partnership institutions as a regional powerhouse in high performance computing and applications.”

The revolutionary center is a collaboration of Northeastern, the state of Massachusetts, Boston University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, the University of Massachusetts, Cisco Systems and EMC Corporation, a Hopkinton-based data-storage company founded by Northeastern engineering alumni. The facility’s high-speed com­puters will be used to ana­lyze com­plex sci­en­tific prob­lems, such as the evo­lu­tion of the galaxy.

“It was the brainchild of university presidents and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to create a supercomputing facility that would provide a central resource for New England to focus on two things: green technologies and high-performance computing, ” said electrical and computer engineering professor Dave Kaeli, who is on the MGHPCC Research Committee.

The facility itself boasts several green components. It is powered and cooled by the nearby Connecticut River, for example, and many of the construction materials came from the demolished buildings that previously rested at the site. The arrangement of the computing cores was even designed in such a way as to minimize heat output.

Members of the Northeastern community attended the MGHPCC ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday. Photo by Rajiv Shridhar.

“Many of the technologies being studied or modeled with the facility will target green technologies,” he explained.[media-credit id=9 align=”alignleft” width=”350″][/media-credit]

A year before the facility was completed, seed grants were awarded to enable collaboration among the university partners. Two teams including three Northeastern faculty members were among the seven awarded. Kaeli and Hossein Mosallaei, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, teamed with Harvard professor Efthimios Kaxiras to study the behavior of metals and dielectric and magnetic particles. Gunar Schirner, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, is working with Boston University professors Ayse K. Coskun and Martin C. Herbordt to measure and improve the energy efficiency of high-performance computing. Awardees of a second round of seed funding will be announced in January.

With the center now complete, these preliminary studies will begin to move research on line. “It provides us with the ability to accommodate the needs of a growing faculty group that is interested in high performance computing,” said Director.

Gov. Patrick, an early proponent of the facility, also attended Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“This landmark project is a testament to what is possible when government, academia and business work together,” he said, “and it will serve as an economic development model for the state and the nation for generations to come.”