TACC's ACES Visualization Laboratory gains high-end Dell workstations

AUSTIN, Texas—Thanks to Dell Inc., the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin has two new high-end visualization workstations at the center’s ACES Visualization Laboratory that will help the lab become a multi-user, multi-purpose environment.

The lab in the Applied Computational Engineering and Sciences (ACES) building on the university’s main campus is a world-class facility that provides access to very high-end resources, particularly large-scale display systems. The facility is used by researchers from every major scientific discipline represented at The University of Texas at Austin.

“We are very excited about adding these workstations to the lab,” said Greg Johnson, who oversees TACC’s Visualization and Data Analysis Group. “On a daily basis, UT’s researchers are confronted with the dilemma of how to gather insight into multi-billion sample datasets in order to make important scientific discoveries. The lab’s unique capabilities directly address this problem by providing up to an order of magnitude higher pixel counts, computational power and memory capacity over the average desktop computer.”

The new Dell workstations—a Dell Precision 670 and a Dell Precision 670n with dual-core Intel® Xeon™ processors—can deliver performance boosts of up to 52 percent and are well suited to a variety of data and display-intensive visualization and post-production tasks.

“Additionally,” Johnson said, “the workstations provide a stepping stone for new users who are just learning how to take advantage of the lab’s very high-end compute and display systems.”

Billie Faircloth, an assistant professor in the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin, said the presence of the lab on campus is crucial to any user with an intense, iterative digital design process.

“For our material research we rely on the lab as part of and integral to our research process,” she said. “While we do benefit from the size of the projections, it is precisely the ability to simultaneously view multiple design iterations and immerse ourselves in spatial proposals that help us move the research forward. My students have learned more about their proposals by stepping back into this environment, seeing the animations side by side and making connections that were not otherwise apparent.”

Although the learning curve can be steep, students of architecture are increasingly aware of and empowered by software capabilities.

“We receive significant hands-on support and troubleshooting with files from the staff,” Faircloth said. “The new Dell systems are compatible with our range of use and to the software employed for our architectural visualizations.”

“Through our work with TACC and the visualization lab, we are developing real-time hurricane storm surge and flash flood models for use by the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management, FEMA and other first responder organizations,” said Dr. Gordon Wells, a program manager for the university’s Center for Space Research. “The new Dell systems will help us to explore new methods of collaborative visualization for decision support in response to natural disasters.”

ACES Visualization Lab Manager Jo Wozniak said there are many situations where visualization research can be performed on a powerful workstation in lieu of a supercomputer, freeing up the visualization engine resources for immersive tasks that do require the aid of a supercomputer. In addition, some visualization software packages will benefit from being run on a system that is not shared with remote users. 

“These dual-monitor Dell workstations will enable researchers to make presentations to a smaller audience of three to five people,” Wozniak said. “Since the large screening area accommodates up to 20 people, our lab can now service up to three different audiences at the same time. These are all important aspects of creating a multi-user, multi-purpose facility.”

Dell and TACC teamed up in 2005 to develop a better understanding of performance and how to enhance the scalability of applications run on cost-effective supercomputers. The two organizations work together to benchmark and analyze various hardware technologies, evaluate HPC software technologies, test grid-computing technologies and discuss options for clusters devoted to visualization and data analysis applications.

In 2004, TACC deployed Lonestar, one of the world’s most powerful computing systems. Lonestar is an HPC cluster composed of Dell PowerEdge server systems with the Intel® Xeon™ processor. In early 2005, TACC upgraded the Lonestar HPC cluster with additional compute nodes and later in 2005 installed a second Dell cluster, Wrangler, with newer technology 64-bit Intel Xeon processors, Myrinet and InfiniBand switches.

WinXP system: Dell Precision 670, two 500GB serial ATA 7200 RPM hard drives, dual 3.60GHz XEON processors, 8GB DDR2 memory nVidia QuadroFX 4400 graphics cards with 512MB memory, dual VGA or DVI outputs 48x CDRW and 16X DVD+/-RW Sound Blaster Audigy 2 sound card, two 24" Dell UltraSharp 2405FP wide flat panel monitors.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux system: Dell Precision 670n, two 500GB serial ATA 7200 RPM hard drives, dual 3.60GHz XEON processors, 8GB DDR2 memory nVidia QuadroFX 4400 graphics cards with 512MB memory, dual VGA or DVI outputs 16X DVD+/-RW and 16X DVD Sound Blaster Audigy, two sound cards, two 24" Dell UltraSharp 2405FP wide flat panel monitors.

For more information contact: Faith Singer-Villalobos, Texas Advanced Computing Center, 512-232-5771.