The age of supercomputing is flourishing at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
Supercomputing uses multiple computers together to process code or analyze data, giving it “superpowers” to solve problems with enormous information processing demands. Distributing the workload along with a fast network and ample storage space greatly reduces the time it takes to complete tasks. In addition, some tasks are so complex that the processing cannot be performed on one machine and can only be accomplished if distributed across a network of machines. Programming for supercomputers, High Performance Computing (HPC), requires special guidance and access to supercomputers. Examples of areas of study with large computing needs include weather, physics, DNA processing, and manufacturing.
Thanks to the decades-long efforts of SE mathematics professor Dr. Karl Frinkle and SE computer science professor Mike Morris (now retired), the university is now the proud owner of a state-of-the-art supercomputer, roughly equivalent to 1,000 desktop computers.
Students benefit directly from the new technology.
“First and foremost, we will continue to offer our students High Performance Computing courses, which is an important area of study for CS (computer science) majors as well as applied mathematics majors,” said Frinkle. “These courses teach the most common approach to high performance computing — compiling code to run on multiple computers, and that approach is available to anyone on campus who wants to take advantage of the resources available.” In addition to computer science and math majors, undergraduate students can also behavioral sciences, biology, chemistry, physics, social sciences and business administration benefit from the system.
A six-year research project in the Faculty of Mathematics is already using the resources available on the new supercomputer, and the supercomputer is running at least one set of code related to mathematically-oriented research projects at any given time. With the proliferation of HPC, there are resources for those unfamiliar with the HPC environment. Programs such as Open OnDemand (https://openondemand.org/), an NSF-funded open-source portal, provide users with a web interface for running code. A long-term goal is to facilitate research into non-coding factorials through as many methods as possible.
Morris said the supercomputer will benefit students now and later.
“If you work for a large organization, chances are the employer owns a supercomputer, rents out time on it, or at least has access to a supercomputer,” Morris said. “Knowing what it is and what it’s capable of doesn’t hurt them, no matter the position. And knowing how to run programs on it is a big plus for a lot of jobs, and our students are learning that. And a few (students) are actually learning how to make programs. The fact that a supercomputer has many processors (computers) on its network requires “parallel programming” that has similarities to regular programming but requires a higher level of expertise that our students receive.”
Frinkle agreed, saying, “Once the domain of large IT departments and government agencies, HPC is now mainstream. Engineering firms, medical research companies, and a host of other organizations rely on supercomputers. To remain competitive and relevant in the global marketplace, it is imperative that students are familiar with supercomputing environments. In the newly founded “Southeastern Center for Supercomputing, (SC2)” students not only learn how to program for supercomputers, but also how to build and maintain them. Supercomputer management is a highly technical and in-demand profession and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.”
Southeastern’s journey into the supercomputing world began more than a decade ago when Frinkle and Morris attended conferences and workshops to learn how to build and use a miniature supercomputer.
The continued commitment and connections of the two professors at the state level resulted in Southeastern receiving various grants and devices that made the supercomputer a reality at the university that year.