Computer scientists get $1.9 million for infrastructure to perform large-scale computer simulations

AUSTIN, Texas—A team of computer scientists at The University of Texas at Austin has received a five-year, $1.9 million federal grant to establish the computer infrastructure for performing simulation studies on everything from the behavior of transistors to the classification of different life forms.

The Mastodon infrastructure project is funded by the National Science Foundation and led by Dr. Risto Miikkulainen, Dr. Chandrajit Bajaj, Dr. Doug Burger, Dr. Kathryn McKinley and Dr. Vijaya Ramachandran in the College of Natural Sciences. Mastodon’s infrastructure is expected to rival that of many supercomputers in its final form, which will include more than 400 high-performance processors with a memory capacity exceeding two terabytes (2 trillion bytes). Servers for the system’s processors will be on racks in a large, third-floor room of the Applied Computational Engineering and Sciences (ACES) building.

“The cluster will actually consist of fast desktop machines with large memory capacities, but hundreds of them connected on a fast Ethernet,” said Miikkulainen, a professor of computer sciences in the college’s Department of Computer Sciences. In addition to Miikkulainen and the other principal investigators, 17 other departmental faculty will serve as senior personnel for Mastodon.

Simulation studies require extensive computer memory, a barrier Mastodon is designed to overcome, while permitting more complex simulations to be done than were previously possible. These simulations will be done simultaneously for different projects, or Mastodon will be applied to side-by-side comparisons of the same simulation with minor variations. For example, the unusual quantum behavior of billions of transistors on a silicon chip can be simulated in response to different software applications to address potential faults in a chip’s design. The design can then be modified before it is manufactured.

Other projects that will benefit from the Mastodon infrastructure include:

  • The “Building of the Tree of Life” project involving computer sciences and integrative biology faculty and the college’s Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics. The National Science Foundation-funded project involves five universities developing the computational infrastructure to perform large-scale reconstructions of evolutionary trees. Scientists around the world will use the infrastructure created by this project, and data generated by genome sequencing projects, to infer a “Tree of Life” relating the millions of living and extinct species on Earth.
  • Artificial intelligence and computer modeling: simulations of the interactions of multiple, independently controlled artificial intelligence devices, including robot soccer players, will be performed by Dr. Peter Stone and others to advance this scientific field.
  • Computer advances: Similar simulations to the one with the silicon chip will be performed to analyze new computer architectures, run-time systems and compilers. For example, Mastodon will be used to assess a new architecture under development to provide supercomputer performance on a single chip. The project to develop the architecture, called Tera-Op Reliable Intelligently Adaptive Processing System (TRIPS), is led by Dr. Burger and Dr. Stephen Keckler in collaboration with colleagues at IBM’s Austin Research Lab.

Many other faculty and students at the university will benefit from access to Mastodon, which includes 16 server machines provided by IBM as part of a recent Shared University Research Award. In addition, Mastodon will be used for simulation projects of scientists at the University of Texas at El Paso and other state institutions.

For more information contact: Barbra Rodriguez, College of Natural Sciences, 512-232-0675.