[UTA Magazine]


Life in the fast lane
New supercomputing system hailed as model for universities nationwide


Somewhere, there's a UTA computer keypunch machine serving handily as a boat anchor.

Likewise, several thousand copies of the instruction manual on a long-obsolete programming system dubbed W.I.L.B.U.R. found their way to new careers via recycling.

That both W.I.L.B.U.R. and the keypunch were considered state of the art just a few years ago says something about computer technology advances. Anyone who has had to replace his personal computer every three years because of obsolescence can relate. Likewise, constant replacement of computer technologies that can't be upgraded have become serious costs to universities.

"We've got power here, and people will gravitate to it. People will want to come here to use this."
-Chemistry Professor Dennis Marynick

But a supercomputing system unveiled this spring at UTA will far exceed the old system's capability and put the University on the high-technology map. Plus, it will accept modernization without requiring expensive total replacement.

Dennis Marynick, a chemistry professor and chairman of UTA's High Performance Computing Committee, says the system can be "upgraded component by component as more powerful technology becomes available."

Dr. Marynick predicts that the upgradable qualities of the supercomputer platform will make it a model for universities nationwide.

The installation, officially dubbed a Compaq AlphaServer, exceeds the capabilities of any other university in the North Texas area. The system is equivalent to those used by Verizon, EDS, Ford and other computer-intensive high-tech organizations.

Mike Humke, Compaq's director of higher education, calls it a "showplace for innovation" and noted that similar systems are being used by the French Atomic Energy Commission and the Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing—the latter the largest university supercomputer in that country.

Depending on application, the new supercomputer is up to seven times faster than the old system. It's so fast that scientists, engineers and mathematicians are lining up for running time for projects ranging from nanotechnology to fluid dynamics.

"We've got power here, and people will gravitate to it," Dr. Marynick said. "People will want to come here to use this."

Though sheer speed is important, neither rapidity nor adaptability to new technology are the system's only assets.

"It also has more memory and operates efficiently," said Keith McDowell, UTA's vice president for research and information technology. "It's important to the community and the University to keep the system state of the art. This software allows us to do that."


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