Installation Begins on Super Supercomputer at UCSD


The UC San Diego Supercomputer Center is installing a new, $25-million Cray supercomputer, making the La Jolla-based institution the first west of the Mississippi River to receive the nation's most powerful computer.

The computer, a Cray Research Y-MP8/864 that was delivered Monday, will replace a Cray X-MP48 that was installed at the center when it opened in 1986. The Y-MP model boasts eight times the memory and three times the computational power of the old model.

When installation is completed early next year, researchers will use the supercomputer to solve "the grand challenges" of science and engineering, according to center spokeswoman Julie Shisler. The new Cray's vast memory will allow researchers to "tackle the toughest, most complex problems," she said.

The Cray supercomputers, which manipulate massive amounts of information, are often used to simulate scientific and engineering processes. Researchers have used them to model aerodynamic performance, the structure of molecules and extremely complicated weather patterns.

There are now about 100 scientific and staff personnel, including interns and fellows, at the center on the UCSD campus. Nationwide, about 3,000 researchers at 150 universities and research institutions are linked to the center's high-speed computers.

Although the center's opening generated a dramatic response throughout the national research community, a similar level of corporate support never developed.

Because the center is largely funded by the National Science Foundation, federal law requires that 90% of its available supercomputer time be dedicated to researchers. Only 10% can be dedicated to corporate users, who pay to use the facility.

But, because corporate demand has not materialized, corporate researchers now account for just under 3% of the Cray's available time.

In part because of that corporate shortfall, the center will abandon its plan to keep the X-MP48 on campus and allow researchers to use both computers, which are leased from Cray.

"We don't have the funding to keep" the X-MP48, Shisler said. "We'd hoped to go on the two-machine path, and every few years upgrade the machine. But the funding is just not there."

The center will receive $13.8 million in science foundation funding during 1990, and hopes to raise $13 million more through in contributions and funding from the state.

In a related development, the center expects next month to begin receiving $6 million in state funding that legislators have earmarked for a "visualization laboratory." During the next three years, the center will use the state money to purchase hardware and software that will help transform reams of data generated by the Cray into graphics that are more easily understood.

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