The university is expanding the On-Campus Research Data Center with a third high-performance computing system

A new High Performance Computing (HPC) system that can do in seconds what would take your laptop hours or days is now online at Idaho State University.

Research Data Center staff recently flipped the switch on Ragnarok, the facility’s newest HPC system. Ragnarok features eight Nivida RTX 3090 GPUs. Graphics processors are specialized computer processors used to speed up the rendering of graphics. Compared to the average consumer gaming laptop, Ragnarok has eight times the graphics processing power and is designed for a level of graphics computation that consumer computers lack.

“Researchers in the state of Idaho can use Ragnarok for many graphics-intensive processes, such as For example, processing lidar images of bare ground or treetops, data from drone flights, and more,” said Kindra Blair, Idaho State Research Systems Administrator. “Future research could include working with neural networks and other machine learning algorithms.”

Ragnarok is one of four HPC systems available to researchers in the state of Idaho. It joins Minerve and Thorshammer; all housed on campus in Pocatello. Dustin McNulty, Professor and Chair of the Physics Department, has used Minerve for particle and optical physics simulations. Using the data from the simulations has helped McNulty and his students design new particle detection systems. The particle detectors have been used in nuclear physics experiments at ISU’s own Idaho Accelerator Center and worldwide at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California and the Mainz Microtron facility in Germany.

“I use high-performance computing resources in almost every aspect of my research,” said McNulty. “Whether we are designing a unique detector system or trying to understand a physical or natural process, we set up and run detailed simulations on the HPCs. The simulations provide us with a wealth of information, give more accurate predictions than traditional calculations and really speed up our entire research process.”

Meanwhile, Kathryn Turner, assistant professor of life sciences, and her students use Thor’s hammer to help them analyze how populations of a plant species are related to each other and how populations can spread across the landscape. Thorshammer enables them to develop a reference genome for the invasive blue mustard weed – a database of DNA sequences representative of the set of genes in an idealized individual organism of a species. In addition to invasive weeds, Turner is also conducting similar studies on important native species such as mugwort.

“Thor’s Hammer and other high-performance computing resources are essential for the type of genomic analysis we do,” Turner said. “The datasets used in these analyzes are often hundreds of gigabytes in size and far, far too large to run on desktop computers — they would either crash or take months to run. If we didn’t have Thor’s Hammer, we would have to find those types of resources elsewhere, which would most likely mean paying for them from scarce funding and competing for access to the computers.”

The fourth, Falcon, is located at the Idaho National Laboratory’s Collaborative Computing Center in Idaho Falls and is connected to the ISU via the Idaho Regional Optical Network. Falcon is described as “one of the fastest academic supercomputers in the nation” according to an INL press release and “ranked 97th on the list of the world’s fastest supercomputers when it was first deployed in 2014”. Updated in 2017, Falcon can perform one quadrillion – 1,000,000,000,000,000 – calculations per second.

“Falcon has been used by academic researchers since its inception, but the unique collaboration between Idaho’s three leading research universities and focus on academic research allows many more researchers to utilize this system,” said Michael Ennis, High Performance Computing Solutions Architect at State of Idaho. “Combining the graphical capabilities of Ragnarok with the extensive computing power of Falcon and our other high-performance computers provides a tremendous boost to the ISU’s research computing capabilities.”

Visit the Idaho State University Research Data Center website for more information.

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