- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - The National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Missouri $1 million in two grants to install a supercomputer for data-intensive research and fund a cyberinfrastructure engineer.

Officials hope the added manpower and equipment will lead to a network of data analysis for all of the UM System campuses to access, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1pNqj67 )

This would be very similar to a virtual cloud system where information - in this case, research data - can be called down to a computer that is connected to the secured cloud.

“Research advancements sometimes are hampered by the ability to process the huge amounts of data scientists are collecting,” Chi-Ren Shyu, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering and director of the Informatics Institute at MU, said in a news release.

He added that researchers with tasks that hinge on computer data have to rely on outside ways to “crunch” the data, which adds weeks and months to the timeline.

“With the advancement of cloud computing and Big Data technologies, researchers can cut that time and produce results more efficiently,” he said in the statement. “The advanced equipment provided by this grant will enable scientists and engineers to team with computational researchers to understand the bottleneck of data analytics and identify efficient hybrid computer cloud environments for faster and more accurate scientific discoveries.”

Prasad Calyam, assistant professor of computer science and leader of the cyberinfrastructure engineer project at MU, said the three-year, $600,408 grant is matched with about $260,000 from MU to help fund the new supercomputer.

MU has a version of a supercomputer now, and much - though it has yet to be determined how much - of that machine will be retired and removed from the campus’ information technology hub and replaced with what the university buys with the grant and added commitment.

Details about the machine the school will purchase are yet to be determined, Calyam said, but he said the school probably will get a mixture of brands for different parts of the operation, rather than buying everything from one place. This allows the school to buy what will work with the existing infrastructure at the university. The exact speed and size of the network space is undetermined as well.

When the old parts are transitioned out and newly purchased parts are brought in, that process will happen in phases to help make the transition of existing data easier.

Supercomputers are not new technology for universities.

A website, top500.org, which ranks supercomputers internationally by speed, includes many of the universities that have received grant money for the major purchase such as MU.

According to the website’s June rankings, the University of Texas’ Advanced Computing Center in Austin ranks in the top 10 as No. 7. The Austin-based supercomputer is capable of more than 5,000 teraflops. Flops, which stands for floating-point operations per second, is a measure of computer processing speed. By comparison, the fastest supercomputer on the list, the National Supercomputer Center in China, is capable of almost 34,000 teraflops.

The only other U.S. higher education institutions with supercomputers ranking in the top 50 is Purdue University in Indiana. Several more across the country made the top 100 list.

The second NSF grant is about $400,000 to hire a cyberinfrastructure engineer who will collaborate with researchers to create tools to adapt to the new network. Calyam said it’s an expansive role that will include working to understand how researchers can better work with cloud computing.

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Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com

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