A community-oriented supercomputer spurs collaborative local research.
Tulsa’s Tandy Community Supercomputer is housed in the Data Center at One Technology Center (Tulsa City Hall).
Tulsa’s new supercomputer may not be the world’s biggest or fastest, but it is the most community-oriented.
It is a project of the Oklahoma Innovation Institute’s Tulsa Research Partners, a partnership of The University of Tulsa, Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, the University of Oklahoma and Tulsa Community College. It is designed to be shared among researchers from those institutions and from private businesses and entrepreneurs.
“We don’t want to be biggest and best,” says David Greer, executive director of the Institute for Information Security at TU and executive director of the Innovation Institute. “We want to provide access to the technology that is needed in Tulsa.”
The $3.5 million Tandy Community Supercomputer is housed in Tulsa’s City Hall Data Center. Funding came from a $2 million donation by the A.R. and Marylouise Tandy Foundation, $800,000 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, grants from the Grace and Franklin Bernsen and Oxley foundations, and other corporate and philanthropic organizations.
The computer is capable of about 35 teraflops — 35 trillion floating point operations per second — whereas a desktop might perform around 100 billion floating point operations per second.
For example, a researcher studying advanced materials might need his software to perform 250 quadrillion operations to get a useful result. A desktop might be able to do this in around a month, but a supercomputer could reduce that time to hours.
The computer’s capabilities can be expanded as the need grows, Greer says. It started with about 100 nodes or computational servers with 1,600 processor cores and 12.8 terabytes of ram, but can grow to more than 300 nodes and more than 5,000 processor cores.
It is much faster than even large commercial systems, but not in the range of the world’s fastest supercomputers. Those mainly are in government or university laboratories in the U.S., China or Japan and are rated by petaflops, each one equal to 1,000 teraflops.
The device was built in California by Fujitsu America, a subsidiary of a Japanese technology giant, and then shipped to Tulsa.
Most supercomputers are made for a special purpose for one institution, typically a government agency, laboratory or university. Any of Tulsa’s users can utilize the common supercomputing infrastructure provided by the Innovation Institute and buy into a node for a one-time $10,000 fee, plus $2,500 a year annual maintenance.
Users must provide their own programs and computer expertise, although Greer says, “We have outreach whose sole purpose is to help use technology … to mentor (users), explain how to write better code … to make programs more efficient.” The center partners with TCC to teach researchers how to use the supercomputer for their projects.
“We’ve already had companies in line that want to be a part of this,” Greer says, “but we want to control growth, so we’re kind of slowly expanding.”
Brek Wilkins, a post-doctoral researcher with the OSU Center for Health Sciences, is already working to use the supercomputer. He and some colleagues are working on a project to predict heart attacks. The goal is to develop a device that can be worn to monitor a user’s physical symptoms to predict heart attacks before they occur, so preventive measures can be taken. An example, he says, might be somebody mowing a lawn who could be warned he is on the verge of an attack.
Wilkins has a vast database of information, “but it takes hours to do what I need on a desktop … on the supercomputer we will be able to look at it in real time and see results within minutes or seconds.”
They also are working on a related device to diagnose sleep apnea, which now typically is done through tests in a sleep laboratory.
The community supercomputer, Greer says, offers “the possibility of making everyone more effective … collaboration shouldn’t be dirty word.”
Some other cities and universities have a form of supercomputer with shared resources, but not with the kind of partnership Tulsa is using.
“No one is doing it the way we’re doing it,” Greer says.
About the Tandy Foundation
Tulsa’s new Tandy Community Supercomputer is named for the foundation that was a major funder for the project.
The A.R. and Marylouise Tandy Foundation donated $2 million toward the initial $3.5 million cost. That foundation honors a pair of longtime Tulsans.
Marylouise graduated from The University of Tulsa in 1944 and married Alfred Randolph “Bill” Tandy, a grandson of the founder of the Tandy Leather Factory and Radio Shack stores. Radio Shack was a pioneer in personal computing terminals with its TRS80, one of the earliest of those devices.
Bill and Marylouise lived in Tulsa, where Bill owned Tandy Industries, a national property development company, which built home and institutional buildings such as libraries and dormitories, and also was president and CEO of Great Yellowstone Corp., an oil and gas producer.
Bill died in 1971 and their foundation was created in 1985. Marylouise died in 2009, but their family remains in Tulsa.