Research Partnership Grants UC Berkeley Access to Supercomputer

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UC Berkeley engineers are gaining the ability to conduct large-scale research through cloud computing on a supercomputer as a result of the campus's recent partnership with Yahoo!, which was announced last Thursday.

UC Berkeley was selected by Yahoo! for its research proposal, along with Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said Ron Brachman, vice president of research operations for Yahoo!.

A similar partnership was set up between the campus, Google and IBM in 2007 to allow students to use a cluster of computers that could be accessed remotely.

The latest partnership will allow UC Berkeley scientists to use one of the 50 fastest supercomputers in the world, which can do 27 trillion calculations per second.

The proposal includes using the supercomputer to analyze large quantities of financial data to create models that can quantify risk, said dean of engineering Shankar Sastry. This is achieved through cloud computing, a method of breaking down large computing tasks by sending many small tasks to different processors at remote sites and combining the responses.

Additionally, other UC Berkeley researchers will use the computing method to analyze personal and social preferences on the Internet.

"What we wanted to do was give faculty the chance to work on computational issues too big to do on computer clusters on campus," Sastry said.

Carnegie Mellon has been conducting a similar program for the past year. Researchers have gained significant ground in understanding how to transfer data efficiently in a large system, said Randy Bryant, dean of the school of computer science at Carnegie Mellon.

"At the system's end, we are thinking about how to get a lot of data moving back and forth between computers and disk drives," Bryant said. "For example, the Yahoo! cluster is a few thousand disk drives, so just moving the data back and forth and coordinating it all is a lot of interesting research."

Cloud computing is already a popular technology, utilized by Internet applications such as Gmail and Google.

Armando Fox, an adjunct associate professor of computer science, referred to this type of computing as the next big trend in his field. He said students in his Software for Service class did large-scale labs using cloud computing.

"The benefit of cloud computing, as far as having instant capacity on demand, is a great feature for courses," Fox said. "I think it's a huge benefit for students because they get the programming and operations exposure they weren't able to have before."


Christine Chen covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected]

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