Archive

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center retiring vaunted Blacklight computer | TribLIVE.com
Allegheny

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center retiring vaunted Blacklight computer

PTRsupercomputer081415
The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is retiring the Blacklight computer.

In the world of supercomputers, faster is not always better.

“In physics, chemistry and cosmology, speed is always more important. There are other uses of supercomputers — everything from finance to genomics. Sometimes, memory is more important,” said Ralph Roskies, director of Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, a joint effort of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

In the five years it has been there, the center’s soon-to-be-shelved Blacklight computer’s vast data-sorting capability helped track early human migration; organized the genomic information of wheat; tracked irregular stock market trades; and studied national systems for live organ transplants. It even played Texas Hold‘em.

Blacklight can perform 37 trillion calculations per second. The country’s fastest supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee performs 17.59 quadrillion calculations per second.

“Blacklight is more about memory than about speed,” said Nicholas A. Nystrom, the center’s director of strategic applications and a research physicist at CMU.

Blacklight will be retired Saturday and replaced by Bridges — a machine with 12 times Blacklight’s memory capacity that will be built by Hewlett Packard. “Five years is a long time for these machines. A typical lifespan is 4.5 years,” said Roskies, a professor of particle physics at Pitt.

Instead of touting the center’s spiffy but unfinished replacement computer, officials there are focusing on Blacklight’s diverse list of accomplishments.

Until two years ago, odd lots — trades of 100 or fewer shares — did not have to be reported to financial regulators, who thought the trades involved only small investors and unlikely to affect the larger market significantly.

That assumption was questioned by professors Mao Ye of the University of Illinois and Chen Yao and Maureen O’Hara of Cornell University, whose research persuaded regulators at the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ to change their reporting requirements.

“More than 20 percent of the trading volume, among all stocks, was missing in the official count,” Ye said.

Blacklight entered the world of poker in April. Claudico, a program developed at CMU using high-performance computing on the Blacklight system, faced off against four of the world’s top 10 players at no-limit, heads-up Texas Hold’em poker.

The match at Rivers Casino ended in a statistical draw — a landmark accomplishment for any computer, officials say.

About the size of eight refrigerators, Blacklight is housed in Monroeville at a former Westinghouse Electric Co. plant. A $3 million National Science Foundation grant in 2010 paid for it.

Bridges, which will cost $9.65 million, will offer new computational capabilities in data-intensive fields, such as genomics, social sciences and the humanities. It will be completed in January.

“It is a much larger and more ambitious system,” Nystrom said.

Blacklight is likely to be sold, said Ken Chiacchia, center spokesman. The center does not ask buyers what they plan to do with the computers.

“I think many buyers want the parts,” Roskies said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.