NSF Awards $7.6 Million to Supercomputing Center

Issue Date: 
November 4, 2013

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $7.6 million grant to the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center to develop a prototype for a next-generation system called Data Exacell that will be able to store, handle, and analyze vast amounts of data. The four-year grant will allow the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center to design, build, and refine the prototype in collaboration with scientific research partners who have projects that require the processing of large and complex data sets.

“We are very pleased with this opportunity to continue working cooperatively to advance the state of the art based on our historical strengths in information technologies—and to apply any resulting advances to a wide range of important scientific research,” noted a joint statement issued by Mark A. Nordenberg, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, and Subra Suresh, president of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

The supercomputing center is a joint effort of Pitt and CMU together with Westinghouse Electric Co. The center’s collaborators for the Data Exacell prototype are likely to be working in genomics, radio astronomy, multimedia-data analysis, and other fields.

“The focus of this project is data storage, retrieval, and analysis of what is known as Big Data,” said Michael Levine, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center’s scientific director and a CMU professor of physics. “The Data Exacell prototype builds on our successful and innovative activities with a variety of data-storage and analysis systems.”

The term Big Data comprises data sets so large that they are difficult to break down into meaningful information by using traditional data-processing and computation applications. Instead, these large data sets require applications that are more focused on data collection and analysis.

Many research projects and fields require the handling of large amounts of data—the European Bioinformatics Institute alone, for example, now stores 20 petabytes of life sciences data. (For comparison, two petabytes would comprise all the information held in the United States’ academic research libraries.) The Data Exacell project will seek to create a computer system that can access such large bodies of data and then quickly and accurately transform them into meaningful information.

The core of the Data Exacell prototype will be SLASH2, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center’s production software for managing and moving Big Data.

Formed in 1986, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is supported by several federal agencies, private industry, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and is a major partner in the National Science Foundation XSEDE program.