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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 13, 2003

Supercomputer doubles speed with upgrade

By John Duchemin
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Maui High Performing Computing Center in Kihei is one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, now capable of doing 3.6 trillion operations simultaneously.

Advertiser library photo

The fastest computer in Hawai'i just got more powerful.

The U.S. Air Force has upgraded the Maui High Performance Computing Center, already one of the world's most powerful supercomputer systems. Some of the latest IBM processors nearly double its computational power.

The upgrade, which comes as the military invests heavily in computing infrastructure and new technology, is seen as a boon to the Hawai'i high-tech scene.

The Air Force says a beefed-up supercomputer could bring Hawai'i more defense-related research projects. Air Force Capt. Dale White, who oversees the Maui High Performance Computing Center for the military, said the upgrade makes the supercomputer one of the "premier research sites" in the Department of Defense.

Researchers at the University of Hawai'i and local high-tech companies will want to use the expanded capacity, and are less likely to be bumped from the system by military needs, said Steven Itoga, chairman of UH Information and Computer Sciences.

"It's very impressive for a Department of Defense supercomputing site," said Itoga, who saw a demonstration of the supercomputer's capabilities with Chris Lee, director of the UH film program.

With a $4 million investment by the Air Force Research Laboratory, the supercomputer now has 320 high-speed IBM processors — each representing an extremely powerful computer — organized in 32 "nodes."

It can perform 3.6 trillion simultaneous operations, about twice as many as before.

The Air Force and other military branches use the supercomputer for the complex calculations of war games, virtual-reality simulations, weather forecasts, and wave and water flow modeling.

The supercomputer, in a research park near Kihei, also processes data gathered from the Air Force observatory on Haleakala and other intelligence sources.

Created in 1993, it has been operated since October 2001 by the University of Hawai'i in partnership with military contractors Boeing and Science Applications International Corp.

UH, which has a four-year contract, is interested in tapping the supercomputer for use in local research projects. The relationship has been limited thusfar: The university has appointed three supercomputer staffers to teaching positions, but would like to go further, Itoga said.

UH researchers could use the Air Force's on-site virtual-reality systems to create visual models of scientific phenomena, Itoga said. Computer programmers would love to use the hardware for computer graphics, game programming and animation, he said.

"We're interested in all the technologies they have there; we just have to make sure the Air Force is very comfortable with what we're doing, so we've taken small steps in the beginning."