ITTC Bioinformatics Computing Facility to Receive Extreme Makeover


By Michelle Ward

Today's computationally intensive research depends upon High Performance Computing (HPC) hardware to allow researchers to sequence genomes and peer into molecules. This vast computing power generates scientific breakthroughs with, unfortunately, a lot of unused heat.

A University of Kansas computing facility dedicated to life sciences research will enable a 20-fold boost in computing power thanks to a $4.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. In addition, the new design will utilize the heat generated from the computing hardware to supplement the building's heating infrastructure.

"This is a superb example of a win-win," said KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. "Investigators on the cutting edge of biological research will have much more robust computing at their command and see that their research is energy efficient and sustainable--a priority for our campus."

KU researchers will renovate more than 3,500 square feet of computing space and 2,400 square feet of support space. A sophisticated computer-rack cooling system will shuttle heat from computing equipment into the Nichols Hall boiler room, resulting in an expected 15% reduction in building natural gas use. Additionally, when outdoor temperatures drop below 45 degrees, a "dry-cooler" will kick in, slashing electricity consumption by allowing cooling compressors to be powered down.

KU's Bioinformatics Computing Facility, housed at the Information and Telecommunication Technology Center in Nichols Hall, will be updated and expanded through an NIH Recovery Act Limited Competition: Core Facility Renovation, Repair and Improvement grant.

"We are confident that the renovated core facility will prove to be an exemplary centralized computational resource," said Jun "Luke" Huan, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, who spearheaded the project. "It is well-positioned to meet the ambitious data analysis needs of KU biomedical research and to dynamically respond to future computational challenges."

Examples of research projects conducted at ITTC's bioinformatics cluster include prediction of the misfolding of proteins that contributes to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases; sequencing of genomes; data mining of emergent chemical genomics databases; and development of approaches to uncover interactions between genes and proteins.

Such advanced biomedical research pushes computer systems to their limit.

"The existing BCF is running at capacity and cannot be expanded further," said ITTC Acting Director Perry Alexander. "It supports more than 50 research projects and 10 core service laboratories. Researchers from across KU participated in this proposal. It was a university-wide effort to increase high-performance computing capacity for an exceptionally diverse collection of researchers, ranging from life sciences to engineering, while focusing on sustainability and energy efficiency."

For researchers across KU, the renovations also will increase access to computational resources by improving network connectivity between the facility and the rest of the Lawrence campus, the KU Medical Center and external organizations.

ITTC, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Research and Graduate Studies, Molecular Graphics and Modeling Laboratory, K-INBRE Bioinformatics Core, Biodiversity Institute, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Design & Construction Management and Information Technology all contributed to the winning grant proposal.

For more information, contact ITTC.

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