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Recent HPC2 expansion raises capabilities, expectations

There has been a whirlwind of news coming out of Mississippi State University’s Engineering Research Center (ERC) as of late — even down to the name of the facility. The center is now known as the High Performance Computing Collaboratory, commonly referred to as the HPC2.

However, the new name is the least of the news emanating from the Starkville facility. The complex recently completed an expansion, primarily to make room for a new supercomputer, which means enhanced capabilities at the HCP2.

Bigger and faster

In 1990, MSU was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center for Computational Field Simulation. The unit graduated from the NSF in 2001.

According to Roger King, associate dean of MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering, earlier this year the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (CAVS), one of HCP2’s research units, submitted a proposal for a new NSF ERC designation, which would have focused on multi-scale design as well as manufacturing.

“Part of the rationale for the name change is to avoid confusion between MSU’s past NSF Engineering Research Center and another center proposed for the future,” King said. “In addition, the number of separate units operating under the banner of ERC has grown to include five multidisciplinary research units with administrative ties to colleges other than engineering. The requested name change better reflects the actual function of the unit that has evolved since 1990.”

(This was the second name change of an MSU research center this year. In January, the university’s Diagnostic Instrumentation and Analysis Laboratory was renamed the Institute for Clean Energy Technology.)

The name change is nearly non-news compared to the other HPC2 recent happenings. In late August, Gov. Haley Barbour and U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) joined MSU officials for the grand opening of a significant expansion of the HPC2. The total expansion encompassed 28,000 square feet and cost $6 million.

What the expansion is for is even more noteworthy. The HPC2 is making room for a new supercomputer called Raptor. Raptor, ringing in at a cool $1.3 million, has the capacity to make 10.6 trillion calculations per second. The machine will have the computing power equivalent to the 73rd fastest supercomputer in the world.

At press time, Trey Breckenridge, HPC2 operations administrator, was out checking on the assembly of Raptor. No time frame was given as to when the machine would be operational.

Kirk Schultz, dean of the Bagley College of Engineering, said the capabilities of the new Raptor would benefit people throughout the state.

“This is a very bright spot for Mississippi,” he said. “This is something I hope all Mississippians will take pride in.”
The addition, which nearly doubles the size of the HCP2, also created needed space for researchers, administration and storage. Research conducted at the facility will include a range of interests from sociology to electrical engineering.

At the grand opening, Pickering pointed out that protecting the U.S. from terrorist threats makes using the best technology available essential. Much of the HPC2’s research relates to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

Both Pickering and Barbour are excited about both the addition and Raptor. When MSU’s high-performance computer capacity is coupled with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers division in Vicksburg, Jackson State University and University of Mississippi, Mississippi has as much capacity as the world’s seventh-ranked supercomputer in the world.

“The image we make here will affect our state in a positive way,” Pickering said.

Barbour said, “Many people don’t know that we have access to phenomenal amounts of computer technology that is allowing Mississippi to be competitive in the global market place. In fact, it’s helping drive America’s competitiveness.”

Team effort

The HCP2 is not one unit but a consortium of five independent research centers. The research units include CAVS, Center for Computational Sciences, Center for DoD Programming Environment and Training, Computational Simulation and Design Center and GeoResources Institute.

The units are located in two buildings in the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park, located just north of the MSU campus. All together, HPC2 utilizes 190 MSU faculty and full-time researchers across a wide range of academic disciplines, as well as a full-time support staff numbering 36.

While separate units, the members centers and groups share a common core objective of advancing state-of-the-art in computational science using high-performance computing; a common approach to research that embraces a multidisciplinary, team-oriented strategy; and, a commitment to full partnership between education, research and service.

MSU president Robert H. “Doc” Foglesong said, “This is about a team effort. It’s not just about Mississippi State, It’s about the State of Mississippi. We’re going to continue down the path of excellence in research.”

Focusing on computational science and engineering, the HCP2 will continue to strive to help businesses and researchers tackle issues for a variety of projects that include computational fluid dynamics, remote sensing, computational physics, aerospace design and automotive research.

The centers currently generate more than $43 million annually from federal agencies and industry.

“Our goal is to continue to develop our research capabilities, strengthen our ability to contribute to the economic growth of the state and improve the quality of life for all Mississippians,” said Colin Scales, MSU research vice president.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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