Georgia Tech Part of Team Developing New NSF-funded Supercomputer

Srinivas Aluru

A team from Georgia Tech will be a part of the new supercomputing system known as Frontera that will be located at Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) and funded by a $60 million award from the National Science Foundation.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the award, which will support the acquisition and deployment of the new supercomputer to TACC at The University of Texas at Austin, today.

Anticipated to begin operations in 2019, Frontera will be the fastest at any U.S. university, among the most powerful in the world, and will allow the nation’s academic researchers to make important discoveries in all fields of science, from astrophysics to zoology.

The team from Georgia Tech is led by Srinivas Aluru, co-executive director of the Institute for Data Engineering and Science, and also includes Rich Vuduc, Edmond Chow, and David Bader. All are professors in the School of Computational Science and Engineering, where Bader serves as chair, and in the College of Computing.

“Georgia Tech is excited to be part of the NSF leadership-class computing facility project, which will produce the design and operation of the leading academic supercomputer of our times, and guide its path to reaching exascale capabilities,” Aluru said.

Earth slice NSF supercomputer

Image from a global simulation of Earth’s mantle convection enabled by the NSF-funded Stampede supercomputer. Colors represent the effective viscosity; subducting plates are shown in blue. The Frontera system will allow researchers to incorporate more observations into simulations, leading to new insights into the main drivers of plate motion.
Credit: Credit: UT Austin, Caltech, and NYU

His team will be evaluating possible architectures and technical designs of the Phase Two system. They will develop exascale-ready code for application areas including computational biology and computational chemistry. Georgia Tech faculty will also serve on the technical advisory committee for the project and are expected to be instrumental in the design, operation, and ultimately, the science conducted on Frontera. Tech researchers will also receive substantial access during the early operations phase.

“Many of the frontiers of research today can only be advanced by computing, and Frontera will be an important tool to solve grand challenges that will improve our nation’s health, well-being, competitiveness, and security,” said Dan Stanzione, TACC executive director.

Frontera capabilities

If completed today, Frontera would be the fifth most powerful system in the world, the third fastest in the U.S., and the largest at any university. For comparison, Frontera will be about twice as powerful as Stampede2 (currently the fastest university supercomputer), and 70 times larger than Ranger, which operated until 2013. To match what Frontera will compute in just one second, a person would have to perform one calculation every second for roughly one billion years. 

Anticipated early projects on Frontera include:

  • Analyses of particle collisions from the Large Hadron Collider
  • Global climate modeling
  • Improved hurricane forecasting
  • Multi-messenger astronomy

The primary computing system will be provided by Dell EMC and powered by Intel processors. Data Direct Networks will contribute the primary storage system and Mellanox will provide the high-performance interconnectivity for the machine. GRC (Green Revolution Cooling), NVIDIA, and the cloud providers Amazon, Google, and Microsoft will also have roles in the project.

Faculty at the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences at UT Austin will lead the world-class science applications and technology team, with partners from the California Institute of Technology, Cornell University, Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, the University of Utah, and the University of California, Davis.

What's next?

Experienced technologists and operations partners from these sites and Georgia Tech, as well as The Ohio State University, and Texas A&M University, will ensure the system runs effectively in all areas, including security, user engagement, and workforce development.

Frontera will enter production in the summer of 2019 and will operate for five years. In addition to serving as a resource for the nation’s scientists and engineers, the award will support efforts to test and demonstrate the feasibility of an even larger future leadership-class system – ten times faster than Frontera – to potentially be deployed as Phase 2 of the project.

“Keeping the U.S. at the forefront of advanced computing capabilities and providing researchers across the country access to those resources are key elements in maintaining our status as a global leader in research and education,” said NSF Director France Córdova.

“This award is an investment in the entire U.S. research ecosystem that will enable leap-ahead discoveries.”


Dr. JF Salazar