POSTED ON OCTOBER 31, 2012:
"Research Day" in T-Town
Run up to Tulsa's community supercomputer
There are so few supercomputers available today. ... To have one in Tulsa, open for private sector use is a huge advantage to small- and medium-sized companies in the region. Having this tool at our disposal will allow small business owners that are passionate about an idea to compete against bigger companies. ... If a Tulsa machine shop that supplies parts to a large aerospace company in Tulsa has a concept for a new or improved part they can get with a CAD (computer aided) designer and run proof of concept tests on the prototype using the supercomputer for modeling and simulation. Several oil and gas companies in Tulsa can benefit ... in how they analyze geologic modeling. In this era of big data, we need better and faster hardware in order to get to the next level and compete with other economies. Because this (Tulsa) supercomputer is local, business people who use it can be assured that their data is staying in Tulsa rather than being shipped over the wire to supercomputers in other cities and possibly ... compromised in the transfer."
--Fred Menge, managing director of Magnir, a Tulsa information management firm.
In his combo science-fiction/fright movie Prometheus, storied film director Ridley Scott revisits the lurid world depicted in his legendary '77 Alien. A gigantic, three-dimensional table-top display of an ancient civilization's vast work site -- it's almost a main character in the 2012 movie -- sits at the grim core of this unnerving, if mesmerizing tale of late 22nd century explorers. The looming "monster house" is rendered again and again in the movie as a ravishingly beautiful virtual "map": electric testament to the role of a very agile sensor system, tied to an enormously potent starship-borne computer. Scott's Prometheus is a fevered product of supercomputing movie magic and a not-so-far-away part of the road ahead for real-world pioneers.
Sometimes sparking city development -- plotting a road to a town's future -- means crafting job-creating, rifle-shot-like efforts. If some of the best documented efforts of this sort are on the mark, these thrusts take the form of strategic, cross-cutting projects that give companies, industry groupings and professional communities bleeding-edge capacity -- new competitive power.
In Green Country, we have a tight set of such projects: Our Vision 2025-funded Helmerich Advanced Technology Research Center at the OSU downtown campus, the privately funded Fab Lab Tulsa on South Lewis Avenue, and the planned OU/TU medical school, also in downtown Tulsa, are the best examples.
A less well-known, but hardly less important high-performance computing hub is another grand about-to-begin project of this kind. Sponsored by the Oklahoma Innovation Institute (OII), a consortium that includes TU, OU, OSU, TCC and City of Tulsa/Mayor Dewey Bartlett's administration and parts of T-Town's venture capital community, the project is about to start in earnest.
"Supers" have been used traditionally for nuclear weapons simulation, seismic exploration, particle physics, aerospace prototyping and climate modeling: but the scope of these behemoth machines is very broad. Supers have also been harnessed for animated film making and special-effects work. Having a co-op-like "super" could give Tulsa artists, special-effects firms, computer game developers, animators and directors a wild-card advantage in our region.
The project's governing board wants to make the new Tulsa Community Supercomputer, to be housed in City Hall, the largest "open to all at discount" community supercomputer in the United States. And the nonprofit OII also wants to make the project one of the top 25 academically-linked supercomputer shops in the country.
Heavy, Heavy Iron Day
On Tuesday, Nov. 6, "votin' day," as former president George Bush famously sometimes called it, Tulsans can attend a workshop about what looks to be a gleaming part of our collective futures. The daylong session centers on the new community supercomputing facility and the broad economic, public policy and artistic potential of high-performance computing. The Nov. 6 "Tulsa Research Day" will look at how a wide band of business, academic and artistic folks can use outsized computing power to create or dramatically augment services, products and consumer experiences.
Software biggie/database-giant Oracle and supercomputer-maker Fujitsu will also be on hand. The new machine and a tiny staff should be in operation shortly, having been animated by a $800,000 sparking grant from our federal government, a whole variety of private investors, and in-kind contributions from the area academic community.
The Super and Big Data
Imagine a world where you can pick up your smartphone or digital tablet and see how you are doing physically -- using sensors/software embedded in these mobile devices and linked to supercomputing hubs. And having simultaneous, weather-report-like, on-the-spot contrasts with a dynamic sample of fellow Tulsans might be on offer as well. This is one of the promises, a "bioinformatics" application, of the big data movement and its complementary assets -- supercomputing power, everywhere-present/cheap sensor tech and artificial intelligence software.
Large-scale, supercomputer-driven projects are already being used to model the workings of the human brain and detailed, biologically-correct simulations of animal cells, with a fidelity not found using other methods.
The world of music from centuries ago might be emulated using a machine like Tulsa's new supercomputer -- with aggressive new musical scholarship and a clever re-imagining of these times and places. Writer Paul Elie, for example, in his new book Reinventing Bach, wrote about the look, feel and music of this long-ago world on a recent visit to Tulsa: a visit sponsored by the wonderful Book Smart Tulsa's effort managed by Jeff Martin.
Imagine what it would be like to hear the sounds of 300-year-old musical instruments playing in virtual spaces similar to the world inhabited by Bach and other musicians of his period. All this through the magical agency of high performance computing.
In a few weeks, I'll talk in detail to some of the T-Town business and academic folks who will be pioneering Tulsa's new "super."
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