Oberlin College’s New Cluster Expands Research Capabilities

Posted on June 15, 2015

“It’s vital to their future success that Oberlin students have access to high performance computing on campus,” said Michael Moore, Associate Professor of Biology. “The addition of modeling and ‘big data’ has transformed the sciences, and supercomputing is now the norm.”

Oberlin College is known for its dedication to undergraduate research, which will be enhanced by the addition of the new high performance computing cluster.

“What makes this cluster noteworthy is the fact that we use it for teaching undergraduates, who get access and learn how to use a cluster before they go on to start their graduate work,” said Chris Mohler, Systems Administrator at Oberlin College’s Center for Information Technology. “We are one of the few institutions, I believe, to do that. It’s rare. That’s really the big bonus.”

The user base is unique, and the HPC system itself can be considered ground-breaking.

“Our HPC system is unique because it’s a virtual HPC system using Proxmox,” Mohler said. “We’re running what is probably one of the only virtual production HPC systems in existence.”

Proxmox is an open source virtualization management solution for high performance computing servers. It enables users to easily virtualize even the most demanding Linux and Windows application workloads.

The new cluster, which was built by Advanced Clustering Technologies, is made possible by a $486,256 grant that Oberlin College was awarded last fall. The cluster eventually will be used by more than a dozen faculty and research students working on projects as diverse as modeling black hole collisions and analyzing the effects of organic molecules on air quality, and determining the protein characteristics of the earliest life on Earth to reconstructing the evolution of flowering plants using massive amounts of DNA sequence data.

In 2005, Oberlin was among the first liberal arts colleges in the country to make a supercomputer available to undergraduates for the purpose of processing enormous data sets.

Oberlin’s new cluster was delivered this spring and is already at 25% utilization with early jobs centered around neuroscience and physics. “We coordinated to submit all of our jobs at once to see if we could max it out. We haven’t been able to do that,” Mohler said.

Mohler said it is hoped that the new cluster will be made available to undergraduates enrolled in Chemistry 101 when classes resume this fall.

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