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San Diego Supercomputer Center Celebrates its 25th Year

The San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) formally marked its 25th year this week, highlighting several scientific and technological accomplishments that include assisting researchers in developing new drugs for AIDS and cancer, predicting the impact of earthquakes, and determining the structures of key enzymes to increase the world’s food supply.

Established by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under an agreement between University of California at San Diego and neighboring General Atomics, SDSC’s staff and management also looked ahead to the next 25 years, as the center positions itself as a key resource for data-intensive computing for UC San Diego and the entire UC system, as well as researchers throughout academia, government, and industry.

“The San Diego Supercomputer Center fills a very important and crucial role, especially in data-intensive computation for all researchers,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox in commemorating the center’s anniversary. As an organized research unit of UC San Diego, SDSC “has transformed how science is done throughout the world.”

Fox further noted that SDSC has distinguished itself with an impressive list of scientific accomplishments in its first 25 years, at a time when the entire UC San Diego campus is celebrating its 50th anniversary as one of the nation’s top research universities.

Michael Norman, SDSC’s director, said that the center’s future lies in the convergence of high-performance computing and what he called high-performance data, as all researchers face the daunting task of sorting through and making sense of a “data tsunami” as they conduct their research.

“We are seeing the rise of data-intensive science, and quite frankly SDSC has been pursuing this avenue of scientific inquiry for more than 10 years,” Norman said, noting that in addition to a number of new systems, the center is preparing to introduce Gordon, the first data-intensive, flash memory-based supercomputing system that should rank among the top 100 systems in the world after it debuts in mid-2011

“SDSC has a distinguished history of technical innovation, scientific discovery, and community service, and we are well positioned for data-intensive science for the next 25 years,” said Norman, who was named SDSC’s third director earlier this year.

SDSC opened its doors as one of the nation’s first supercomputer centers, as the U.S. sought to increase its overall investment in computing to support scientific research. Sid Karin, SDSC’s founder and first director — who sent an unsolicited proposal to the NSF to create the facility — noted that SDSC was among the first centers to provide interactive access to scientists across a wide range of domains, who soon began to realize the value that the first supercomputers could bring to their research.

However, Karin added that SDSC distinguished itself not only with supercomputing hardware that delivered levels of performance called “mind-boggling” at the time, but with its staff. “One of SDSC’s greatest impacts was its vast amount of human expertise,” he said.

After many years as being primarily a nationally funded supercomputer center, SDSC recently strengthened its ties at the local and state levels with UC San Diego and the UC system, becoming a key resource for UC researchers while still serving those throughout the larger national scientific community.

“SDSC had to reinvent itself completely,” said Frieder Seible, Dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and chair of SDSC’s executive committee, adding that the center’s recent “UCSD-centric” approach has created a new level of collaboration that is benefiting many areas of the campus. “I am even more excited about the advances in computational science to be made in the next 25 years, many of them in ways that we cannot even imagine.”

In addition to serving as a key resource for UC San Diego, SDSC has for many years been a leader in collaborations at the national and international levels. In 2001, for example, SDSC was named a founding member of the NSF’s TeraGrid project, created to support scientific discovery and education through a grid-based cyberinfrastructure that currently includes 10 other supercomputer centers across the country. SDSC this year submitted a proposal to the NSF to lead the next-generation of TeraGrid, to be called eXtreme Digital or XD, and start operations next year.

“It is integrating programs such as these that are the vehicles by which people collaborate in scientific research,” said Richard Moore, SDSC’s deputy director and leader of the center’s national systems.

SDSC has also been preparing for the future by focusing on and becoming a recognized leader in data management. Almost all of today’s data is generated digitally, and the amount of overall digital information is expected to grow 10-fold in just the next five years, according to a recent study by International Data Corporation (IDC). Moreover, SDSC has moved toward becoming a “one-stop” data center, expanding its resources and expertise in all areas of data management including preservation, storage, portals, analytics, and visualization.

“Data is about to hit its tipping point, and we see it as the driver of the Information Age,” said Fran Berman, who directed SDSC from 2001 to 2009 and co-chaired a Blue Ribbon Task Force on digital preservation, sustainability, and access. “When we think about the key challenges of our time — global warming, the economy, health sciences — data is behind every one of them.”

Click here to view a camplete timeline of SDSC'S 25-year history.

— UC San Diego News Office

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