State now among defense supercomputing powers

Contact: Maridith Geuder

When Defense Department officials need powerful supercomputers for researching and designing weapons or aircraft, they soon will turn to a major new computing power--Mississippi.

A coalition coordinated by Mississippi State University is part of an industry-university team providing computer hardware, software and training for three of the department's four new Major Shared Resource Centers intended to strengthen defense computing capabilities.

"Two of those centers are in Mississippi," said Joe Thompson of Mississippi State's National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center. "Mississippi now effectively has half of the Department of Defense's high performance computing capability."

Powerful Cray and Silicon Graphics computers now are being installed at the Naval Oceanographic Office at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County and at the Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station at Vicksburg. They are capable of billions of calculations a second.

"These are some of the biggest and most powerful computers that exist," the aerospace engineering professor explained. "With the installation of this equipment, Mississippi is now among the top 10 states in supercomputing power."

Mississippi State is playing a leadership role in the effort to combine academic and industrial expertise to support the military's high performance computing initiatives. The Defense Department contracts for each center will total approximately $200 million.

"This was a hard-fought competition that recognizes the strengths Mississippi has in computing," Thompson said. Mississippi State is home to one of only 25 NSF Engineering Research Centers in the nation, and the only one specializing in computational fluid dynamics, climate, weather and ocean modeling, and environmental quality modeling simulation.

The Mississippi supercomputing research team also includes Jackson State University. The two state universities are part of a coalition that involves what Thompson calls "a who's who in the computer field." Other universities in the group are CalTech, Clark-Atlanta, Central State of Ohio, Georgia Tech, Howard, Illinois, Ohio State, Rice, Syracuse, and Tennessee.

Industrial partners Nicholls Research of Huntsville, Ala., and E-Systems of Dallas are providing the computing hardware.

"The ability to provide training courses in all aspects of high performance computing is an integral part of this program," Thompson said. Mississippi State has that responsibility at the Waterways Experiment Station and will train scientists and engineers from around the world, he added.

"We also will be working with users to improve software," Thompson said.

In addition to Thompson, other Mississippi State faculty members participating in the effort are David Huddleston, Bharat Soni, Brad Carter, and Jianping Zhu, all of the Engineering Research Center.