Press Release

New Penn State Computer Cluster Enables Researchers to Probe the Universe

By SpaceRef Editor
December 14, 2003
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A new Penn State computational cluster, known as Pleiades, recently was ranked
156th among the most powerful computer systems in the world on the Top 500
Supercomputers list. The cluster is dedicated to the analysis of data from the
Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a facility supported
by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that is designed to detect
gravitational waves for use as a new tool for making astronomical discoveries.
The Pleiades cluster was built by Lee Samuel Finn, professor of Physics,
Astronomy, and Astrophysics and director of the Penn State Center for
Gravitational Wave Physics, in partnership with Penn State’s Information
Technology Services (ITS) office.

Scientists now are anticipating the first detection of gravitational waves with
the imminent completion of LIGO and other new instruments. Pleiades, which
contains 170 servers and operates with the performance of over 700 typical
desktop workstations all working together, will be used by LIGO researchers at
Penn State along with other members of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration to
explore analyze data from LIGO and other gravitational-wave detectors world-wide.

“Gravitational waves are intriguing to astronomers as a tool for peering through
clouds of gas and dust to see directly into the core of collapsing stars, deep
into the heart of colliding galaxies, and back to the earliest moments of the
universe,” explains Finn, who has supervised the development of much of the
scientific data-analysis software for the LIGO project. “Penn State is deeply
involved in the quest to detect gravitational waves and to open the frontier of
this new astronomy.”

As a world leader in the effort to detect gravitational waves (literally
vibrations in the fabric of space and time) Finn believes that, although the
challenge of gravitational-wave detection is great, the rewards are far greater,
including the prospect of a new kind of astronomy in which the signals from
stars are dim but the signals from black holes are bright. Pleiades will enhance
these studies, according to Finn, who says, “while there is certainly room to be
more clever in how we search for gravitational waves, right now we are very much
limited by the need for more computing power, which Pleiades provides.”

Currently, the Pleiades cluster uses a gigabit-speed Ethernet network as its
primary network interconnect, with which it has attained over 870 gigaflops of
peak performance. However, it is already being upgraded to include a high-speed
interconnect technology (known as InfiniBand), according to ITS developers,
which is expected to improve the cluster’s peak performance to over 1.4
teraflops — making it among the top 100 machines in the nation.

The Pleiades cluster is part of the International Virtual Data Grid Laboratory
(iVDGL), an international computational laboratory of unprecedented scale and
scope, comprised of heterogeneous computing and storage resources across the
world, linked by high-speed network and operated as a single system for the
purpose of interdisciplinary experimentation in grid-enabled, data-intensive
scientific computing.

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[NOTE: An image supporting this release is available at (1.3MB)]

SpaceRef staff editor.