Rice University, IBM partner to bring first Blue Gene supercomputer to Texas

University of Sao Paulo signs on as first user for Rice University’s newest supercomputer

Rice University and IBM announced a partnership March 30 to build the first award-winning IBM Blue Gene supercomputer in Texas. Rice also announced a related collaboration agreement with the University of Sao Paulo (USP) in Brazil to initiate the shared administration and use of the Blue Gene supercomputer, which allows both institutions to share the benefits of the new computing resource.

Rice faculty will use the Blue Gene to further their own research and to collaborate with academic and industry partners on a broad range of science and engineering questions related to energy, geophysics, basic life sciences, cancer research, personalized medicine and more.

computerThe collaborative agreement securing Brazil’s share of time on Rice’s Blue Gene was signed in Sao Paulo March 27 by a delegation that included Rice President David Leebron and USP President João Grandino Rodas. Leebron is traveling with a delegation led by Houston Mayor Annise Parker. The delegation includes Rice Provost George McLendon, Greater Houston Partnership (GHP) President and CEO Jeff Moseley and other GHP members.

“Collaboration and partnership have a unique place in Rice’s history as a pre-eminent research university, and it is fitting that Rice begins its second century with two innovative partnerships that highlight the university’s commitments to expanding our international reach, strengthening our research and building stronger ties with our home city,” Leebron said.

USP is Brazil’s largest institution of higher education and research, and Rodas said the agreement represents an important bond between Rice and USP. “The joint utilization of the supercomputer by Rice University and USP, much more than a simple sharing of high-tech equipment, means the strength of an effective partnership between both universities,” he said.

                           Progress in Brazil

Pictured from left are President David Leebron, Houston Mayor Annise Parker and USP President João Grandino Rodas.

The signing of the agreement with the University of Sao Paulo to use the Blue Gene supercomputer at Rice was one of several successful venturesthis week that resulted from President David Leebron’s visit to Brazil as part of the university’s Latin America initiative. Other developments included:

* Rice signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Sao Paulo to facilitate an exchange-student program and research collaborations.

* Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy signed a formal agreement with Brazil’s premier think tank, Fundação Getúlio Vargas, to enhance research and academic relationships and to lay the foundation for long-term cooperation.

* Leebron met with alumni in Sao Paulo as part of his “Celebrate Rice: The World Tour.”

Other recent advances in the Latin America initiative include:

* This week the Faculty Senate approved a Latin American studies major, which will be offered this fall.

Rice and Brazil’s National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) signed an agreement in February that will enable approximately 100 graduate and undergraduate students from Brazil to study at Rice annually with financial support from CNPq.

Mayor Parker, a 1978 Rice alumna, said, “When I was at Rice, it looked inward. Today it looks outward through this agreement. It strengthens not only Rice University but also the city of Houston.”

Rice’s new P series Blue Gene supercomputer, which has yet to be named, is slated to become operational in May. It is based on IBM’s POWER processor technology, which was developed in part at the company’s Austin, Texas labs. Rice and IBM shared the cost of the system.

“High-performance computers like the IBM Blue Gene/P are critical in virtually every discipline of science and engineering, and we are grateful for IBM’s help in bringing this resource to Rice,” McLendon said. “For individual faculty, the supercomputer will open the door to new areas of research. The Blue Gene also opens doors for Rice as the university seeks to establish institutional relationships both in our home city and with critical international partners like USP.”

Unlike the typical desktop or laptop computer, which have a single microprocessor, supercomputers typically contain thousands of processors. This makes them ideal for scientists who study complex problems, because jobs can be divided among all the processors and run in a matter of seconds rather than weeks or months. Supercomputers are used to simulate things that cannot be reproduced in a laboratory — like Earth’s climate or the collision of galaxies — and to examine vast databases like those used to map underground oil reservoirs or to develop personalized medical treatments.

USP officials said they expect their faculty to use the supercomputer for research ranging from astronomy and weather prediction to particle physics and biotechnology.

“This significant investment by IBM is the result of a long-standing collaborative initiative with Rice where together we have developed a unique and substantial computational resource for the research community in Houston, across the country and around the world,” said Tony Befi, IBM senior state executive for Texas. “This new computing capability will speed the search for new sources of energy, new ways of maximizing current energy sources, new cancer drugs and new routes to personalized medicine. So we’re excited that Rice has now joined an exclusive club of the world’s top research organizations who use powerful and energy-efficient Blue Gene supercomputers to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.”

In 2009, President Obama recognized IBM and its Blue Gene family of supercomputers with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the most prestigious award in the United States given to leading innovators for technological achievement.

Including the Blue Gene/P, Rice has partnered with IBM to launch three new supercomputers during the past two years that have more than quadrupled Rice’s high-performance computing capabilities. The addition of the Blue Gene/P doubles the number of supercomputing CPU hours that Rice can offer. The six-rack system contains nearly 25,000 processor cores that are capable of conducting about 84 trillion mathematical computations each second. When fully operational, the system is expected to rank among the world’s 300 fastest supercomputers as measured by the TOP500 supercomputer rankings.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.