NSF puts supercomputing power into Japan quake recovery

TeraGrid community offers high-performance computing and storage to Japanese colleagues

The National Science Foundation is making emergency grants available through its Rapid Response Research (RAPID) program for research on the effects of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of Japan.

The grants, which are expected to be about $50,000 each for one year, could include time on NSF’s high-performance TeraGrid distributed computing platform. The TeraGrid community of researchers already is responding to the disaster by making computing and storage resources available to Japanese colleagues whose infrastructure has been disrupted by the quake and by helping with modeling programs to map and understand the impact of the quake and tsunami.

“I think this is going to be a long-term issue for the Japanese,” said TeraGrid program director Barry Schneider. “The amount of resources that are going to flow out will be minimal; it will have no impact on U.S. researchers.” But the impact on Japanese research programs could be great.

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According to NSF, the magnitude 9.0 quake has been estimated to be the most costly natural disaster on record, with as much as $330 billion in damage. More than 26,000 are dead or missing, an estimated 400,000 are homeless, and nearly a quarter of Japan’s geography has been altered. The damage and continuing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear generating facility could result in a 9 gigawatt power deficiency this summer, resulting in power rationing. It could be years before all Japanese computing resources are back online.

The distributed nature of the TeraGrid can make its resources available for affected Japanese programs and can make discretionary research time available for emergency needs such as creating models to predict the distribution of radioactivity.

TeraGrid is a partnership between NSF’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure and 11 government, educational and research facilities that make computing time available on 15 supercomputing platforms. It is supported by grid software and hig- performance network connections, and provides data storage and management resources in addition to access to the computers themselves.

Total TeraGrid resources now exceed 2 petaflops of combined processing power (a petaflop is 1,000 trillion floating point operations per second) and 50 petabytes of online and archival storage. TeraGrid allocates more than 1 billion processor hours to researchers each year.

Initial TeraGrid responses to the Japanese disaster include the Keeneland Project at Georgia Tech, which has collaborated with Tokyo Tech to produce computer architecture and software for graphics processing. Tokyo Tech’s version of the system already is in production mode but is expected to face temporary shutdowns this summer when power demand increases. Georgia Tech researchers are working to make computing cycles and storage from the Keeneland project available to Tokyo Tech to keep its project up and running.

Indiana University has provided help to responders through quake simulation projects using satellite data and also has used change-detection algorithms to compare before and after satellite images of Japan to determine the extent of damage. Programs at Louisiana State University, the San Diego Supercomputer Center and the Texas Advanced Computer Center (TACC) also have made TeraGrid resources available and collaborated with Japanese researchers.

TeraGrid has responded to other disasters, including last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“There was an immediate need for modeling,” Schneider said. TACC donated 6.5 million hours of computing time for simulation to predict the path of the spill. “That’s sounds like a lot, but it’s not,” Schneider said. TeraGrid manages about 2.7 billion computing hours a year.

The TeraGrid response to the Japan quake so far has consisted of ad hoc contributions of resources. Schneider said he expects to see RAPID grant applications for TeraGrid resources. RAPID grants also were made available for studying the impact of February’s quake in Christchurch, New Zealand.

RAPID grant applications must be received by April 29. Information for submitting applications is available from NSF.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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