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March 8, 2021

By Rob Mitchum

With high-performance computing, artificial intelligence, and data science now embedded in almost every field of science and scholarship, it’s critical for researchers to have access to the technology that best supports their work. Through Midway3, the new campus high-performance computing cluster going into production this month, the University of Chicago community will continue to benefit from computing infrastructure that provides sufficient power and the latest approaches for enabling discovery and innovation.

On Midway3, researchers will be able to more accurately simulate the structure of viruses to develop new drugs, analyze the activity of millions of neurons to better understand brain function, and model complex systems to predict the economic repercussions of climate change. In combination with Midway2, which will remain in operation, the UChicago Research Computing Center (RCC) will be able to provide compute time each year for campus users to enable research and scholarship.

The 220-node Midway3, with more than 10,000 cores, builds upon two previous generations of Midway clusters at UChicago, offering faster and more powerful computation for the massive data and detailed simulations of today’s science. But the upgrade runs deeper than just the raw numbers, said Hakizumwami Birali Runesha, Associate Vice President for Research Computing and Director of the RCC, rethinking the architecture of the machine to better reflect the demands of modern computational research.

“For the end-user, Midway3 is built to address the convergence of artificial intelligence, deep learning, and the traditional high-performance computing (HPC) system,” Runesha said. “In the old days of HPC, we used to think primarily about chemistry and physics, but the world now is really a whole different ball game. UChicago researchers are driving computational research in new directions, and we are very excited to offer a system that is competitive and provides the state-of-the-art for our users.”

Midway3 was built on an entirely overhauled architecture, reflecting updated trends in computer manufacturing and scientific applications. A computing cluster consists of thousands of cores, each roughly equivalent to a single computer, organized into nodes and working in tandem on complex or data-rich programs. The new Midway3 system includes both Intel and AMD processors for the first time, as well as specialty nodes such as large shared-memory nodes and NVIDIA A100, V100, and RTX 6000 GPU nodes tightly coupled with an HDR200 InfiniBand Interconnect for faster communication and performance. 

The system’s 2.2 petabytes high-performance storage also reflects the industry’s shift towards solid-state drives instead of the disc drives of the past. The faster read/write of solid-state enables data-intensive computation such as deep learning and performance improvement of analysis of large and small files. 

Supporting the Cluster with the Cloud

Even as the RCC debuts Midway3, they are also looking beyond the “traditional” cluster to provide additional resources for UChicago faculty and students. Cloud computing — where tasks are performed offsite at a commercial data center instead of using local resources — has grown to a scale where customers can spin up the equivalent of a large computing cluster on demand. While cost, protection of sensitive data, and other limitations preclude the use of this “HPC-in-the-cloud” for all research computing, certain tasks that require short “bursts” of large-scale computing can benefit from cloud options.

So the RCC has also built Skyway, a new platform that allows researchers to seamlessly use commercial cloud resources the same way they use native RCC resources. They can access the same software and features of Midway but in the cloud. For users, the experience will be exactly the same whether they’re using Midway or Skyway, Runesha said, hiding the complexity of using cloud resources and putting the complicated management of resources under the hood, so they can concentrate on their research. Skyway expands the capacity of RCC resources so that users can burst their computing workloads in the cloud. 

Skyway joins other recent RCC offerings, such as the  Secure Data Enclave and the 37-megapixel, 24-foot-wide data visualization wall in the John Crerar Library Building in providing new opportunities for UChicago researchers to create novel kinds of partnerships and science. In 2021, the RCC also plans to commission Beagle3, the university’s HPC system dedicated to biomedical sciences.

“All together, it will really be quite a comprehensive ecosystem that will help UChicago keep up with where we are heading in the future when it comes to data and computation,” Runesha said. “Science is interdisciplinary and collaborative, and computing has the ability to help faculty form strong collaborations and reach across field boundaries. We are really excited about the potential of Midway3 and other resources to enable these relationships and new scientific discoveries at the University of Chicago.”

The RCC is hosting a workshop on May 4th to introduce Midway3. You can register for it here.