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Indiana University Puts Teraflop-Scale IBM Supercomputer to Work in Genomics Research

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Indiana University has acquired an IBM SP Power 3 supercomputer as the first component of an information technology infrastructure planned for the Indiana Genomics (INGEN) initiative, a program funded by a $105 million grant from the Lilly Endowment.

IU and IBM said the teraflop system is the largest university-owned supercomputer in the US and “one of the largest machines in the US, period,” according to Jamie Coffin, worldwide director of life sciences solutions at IBM.

Coffin said the partnership, which includes a genomics research collaboration between IBM and IU, is the first of a series of “major university centers of excellence” that IBM’s life sciences division will support. Similar deals should be announced in the next few months, Coffin said, adding that IBM is also looking to move its DiscoveryLink integration product and DB2 database into academic settings through these partnerships.

The Power 3 system, which triples the university’s previous supercomputing capacity, was shipped about a month and a half ago. Coffin said the university would also acquire some Power 4 machines in the fourth quarter of this year or early next year, adding another 300 gigaflops of capacity.

IBM’s computational biology group will collaborate with IU researchers on high-end algorithms for genomics and proteomics pattern matching. Research on modeling 3D protein structures is also a possibility, although Coffin said the research collaboration is still in its early stages and the goals have not yet been finalized.

INGEN is a research initiative between the IU School of Medicine and the university’s programs in biology and chemistry to study human genomics and its function in human health.

Craig Stewart, director of research and academic computing at IU, said INGEN’s goal is to analyze both genetic and clinical data to gain knowledge about genetically influenced diseases. He said that in addition to the IBM supercomputer, the INGEN IT infrastructure would also include visualization and data storage equipment and support staff. The complete infrastructure should be in place by late spring 2002, Stewart said.

Noting that IU is “not a one-vendor university” and that it currently uses parallel computer systems from three different vendors, Stewart said the IBM SP was selected for INGEN because its architecture complemented the type of work that will be performed on it, as well as the fact that “IBM is in a position to develop new IT tools for life sciences.”

“We’re not just buying a system,” Stewart said. “We’re entering a new relationship to create new IT tools.”

Over 700 IU researchers have accounts on the new system already, Stewart said, and he expects this number to grow to 1,000 within a year.

— BT

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