My 1/30/11 Missoulian column
You might not know that Butte has a supercomputer called Big Sky. I didn’t know anything about it until I called Earl Dodd, the chief consultant for the Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Center, the nonprofit that administers the machine and promotes its use by organizations in Montana.
The supercomputer runs at 3.8 teraflops, doing 3.8 trillion floating point operations a second. You’d need hundreds of garden variety PCs linked together to match that power.
Dodd told me Big Sky can process visualizations of proteins and medicines, help project the course of a wildfire in 3-D, model the entire upper Clark Fork River basin and crunch large amounts of weather and climate data to find the best places for wind and solar energy development.
Dodd is working with organizations all over the state to form local technology groups and facilitate the use of the machine. He wants to draw companies to Montana to form what he calls a new and greener version of Silicon Valley.
For more background on the Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Center, see next Friday’s Western Montana InBusinessMontly and Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Center | The Power to Move Mountains!
One of the organizations RMSC is working with is Salish Kootenai College. Two faculty there, Professor Frank Stomp of the Information Technology and Computer Engineering Departments and his colleague Andrew Westerman are working on a project and writing a paper for a conference.
The paper is called “A New approach to Automated Algorithm Design,” and the story and the technology behind it is very interesting.
The key is they are using a smaller supercomputing cluster at SKC and will soon leverage the more powerful supercomputer Big Sky in Butte. Their project is a good demonstration of the complexity of modern computational problems and how supercomputing is the only way to work with such problems.
Stomp told me that he and Westerman’s work is basically writing software to write software and must test hundreds of millions of different programs called algorithms.
And that’s where the power of the supercomputer comes in: it can do that work many times faster than any other method. That’s why a supercomputer can model the Clark Fork Basin or calculate wind patterns. It has the power to crunch huge amounts of data. More on that next week.
Also, Stomp is giving a lecture titled Mathematics, Computer Science and Conjectures as part of SKC’s Honor the Professor Lecture Series. It’s Friday, Feb. 4, from noon-1 p.m., in SKC’s Arlee/Charlo Hall on the SKC campus.
This week in Mac Q & A: Do I Have to Use Wireless?