Leading edge research requires the latest
technology, and nowhere is this more evident than at the University of
Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. A cluster of lightening-fast Dell machines
compute over five trillion complex mathematical operations a second –
calculations that are taking chemical research to a new level.
Wetmore, a Canada Research Chair in Computational Chemistry and an associate
professor at the University of Lethbridge, the Dell cluster (made up of 85 DVD
player-sized Dell computer nodes with two quad-core processors in each node)
will cut research time and costs significantly. To put this into perspective,
a home computer usually houses one core and one processor. Utilizing the
cluster to study calculations and acquire information about chemical systems,
she can enter complex data and get accurate results far faster than by using
beakers and test tubes.
Having the 85 nodes talking to one another is the key to the power of the
cluster. Instead of one computer taking 48 hours to complete a job, the
cluster can farm the job out to eight or 16 computers at a time, completing
the calculation eight to 16 times faster than normal.
“Five years ago it would have been impossible to run the calculations
that we are currently running in our lab,” says Wetmore. “With the
installation of the cluster, we will be able to advance our research even
further by using even larger models and more accurate theories.” Currently,
Wetmore and her team are modeling damage to DNA caused by, for example, UV
light, pesticides and other factors that lead to mutations causing cancer and
a number of other serious diseases. In order to fully understand the
biological molecules involved, the researchers need to use models that contain
many atoms and provide trusted results. To do so, they need a lot of computing
power – which the cluster, as powerful as 700 home computers at
5,059 Gigaflops, provides.
“The work being done at the University of Lethbridge is crucial to the
advancement of medical research in Canada,” said Greg Davis, President, Dell
Canada. “Dell is proud that the advanced computing power it provides to the
University of Lethbridge is helping to unleash the ability of what Canada’s
great minds can accomplish.”
The cluster, which the University of Lethbridge named Uracil (Upscale and
Robust Abacus for Chemistry in Lethbridge) after an important molecule in
biology and a form of damaged DNA that Wetmore and her students study, was
funded by the University of Lethbridge, the Canada Research Chair Program, the
Canada Foundation for Innovation and Dell Inc.