University Adds Third High Performance Computing System to On-Campus Research Data Center


A new high performance computing (HPC) system that can do in mere seconds what would take your laptop hours or days is now online at Idaho State University.

Research Data Center staff recently flipped the switch on Ragnarok, the facility’s latest HPC system. Ragnarok boasts eight Nivida RTX 3090 graphics processing units. Graphics processing units are specialized computer processors used to speed up graphics rendering. Comparing Ragnarok to the average consumer gaming laptop, Ragnarok has eight times the graphics processing power and is designed for a level of graphical computation that consumer computers lack.

“Researchers at Idaho State can use Ragnarok for many graphic-intensive processes like processing bare ground or tree canopy images collected using Lidar, data collected from drone flights, and more,” said Kindra Blair, Research Systems Administrator at Idaho State. “Future research could include working with neural networks and other machine learning algorithms.”

Ragnarok is one of four HPC systems available to researchers at Idaho State. It joins Minerve and Thorshammer; all housed on-campus in Pocatello. Dustin McNulty, professor and chair of the department of physics, has used Minerve for particle and optical physics simulations. Using the data from the simulations has helped McNulty and his students develop new particle detector systems. The particle detectors have been used in nuclear physics experiments at ISU’s own Idaho Accelerator Center and around the world at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California, and Mainzer Microtron facility in Germany.

“I use high performance computing resources in nearly all aspects of my research,” said McNulty. “Whether we’re designing a unique detector system or trying to understand a physical or natural process, we set up and run detailed simulations on the HPCs. The simulations provide us with a wealth of information, give more accurate predictions than traditional calculations, and really accelerate our whole research process.”

Meanwhile, Kathryn Turner, assistant professor in biological sciences, and her students are using Thorshammer to help them analyze how populations of a plant species are related and how populations can spread across the landscape. Thorshammer is enabling them to develop a reference genome – a DNA sequence database that is representative of the set of genes in one idealized individual organism of a species – for the invasive weed, blue mustard. In addition to invasive weeds, Turner is also doing similar studies of important native species such as big sagebrush.

“Thorshammer and other high performance computing resources are essential for the type of genomic analyzes we perform,” said Turner. “The datasets used in these analyzes are often hundreds of gigabytes in size and far, far too large to run on desktop computers – they would either crash or take months to run. If we didn’t have Thorshammer, we would have to find these types of resources somewhere else, which would most likely mean paying for it from scarce grant resources and competing for access to the computers.”

The fourth, Falcon, located at Idaho National Laboratory’s Collaborative Computing Center in Idaho Falls and connected to ISU through the Idaho Regional Optical Network. Falcon is billed as “one of the nation’s fastest academic supercomputers” and “was ranked 97th on the list of the world’s fastest supercomputers when initially deployed in 2014,” according to an INL news release. Falcon was upgraded in 2017 and can perform a quadrillion – 1,000,000,000,000,000 – calculations per second.

“Falcon has been used by academic researchers since its inception, but the unique collaboration between the three leading research universities in Idaho and the focus on academic research allows many more researchers to use this system,” said Michael Ennis, High Performance Computing Solutions Architect at IdahoState. “The combination of graphical capabilities from Ragnarok with the extensive computational power of Falcon and our other high performance computers provides a huge boost to ISU’s research computing capabilities.”

For more details, visit Idaho State University’s Research Data Center website.

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