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IBM Gift to Bring 'Orchestra' of Powerful Computer Chips to UMBC

Photo Caption:
According to UMBC computer scientists Milt Halem (left) and Yelena Yesha (right), the Multicore Computing Center will give UMBC researchers access to some of the world's most powerful information engines.

UMBC and IBM have announced a new collaboration to create The Multicore Computing Center (MC2), a unique facility that will focus on supercomputing research related to aerospace/defense, financial services, medical imaging and weather/climate change prediction. IBM awarded UMBC a significant gift to support the development of this new center, which researchers describe as an “orchestra” of one of the world’s most powerful supercomputing chips.

The MC2 will bring to UMBC a high-performance computational test laboratory based on the Cell Broadband Engine (Cell/B.E.), jointly developed by IBM, Sony Corp., Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SCE) and Toshiba Corp. This ground breaking processor is used in products such as SCE's PlayStation3 and Toshiba's Cell/B.E. Reference Set, a development tool for Cell/B.E. applications, as well as the IBM BladeCenter QS20.

Cells have a wide range of capability – able to serve as engines for image and video-intensive computing tasks like virtual reality, simulations and imaging for aerospace, medicine and defense; high-definition TV and high-speed video for wireless devices; and highly complex physics based computer models to better predict weather, climate change and biochemistry.

The MC2 is the latest development in a strong, long-time partnership between IBM and UMBC. IBM employs over 100 UMBC alumni, and UMBC faculty have received numerous IBM research awards and fellowships over the past decade.

The MC2 at UMBC is expected to focus on supercomputing research related to aerospace/defense, financial services, medical imaging and weather/climate change prediction.

One of the challenges for researchers at the MC2 will be making clusters consisting of hundreds of the powerful information engines run effectively together. “Cell processors are groups of eight very fast, independent but simple PC’s with their own tiny memory all on a single chip each with its own leader,” said Milt Halem, director of the MC2 and professor of computer science at UMBC.

“The challenge is choreographing all the chips to work efficiently in parallel. It’s like a distributed orchestra with 224 musicians and 28 conductors connected with head phones trying to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony together,” said Halem, who retired in 2002 from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where he served as Assistant Director for Information Sciences and Chief Information Officer.

"The Multicore Computing Center highlights UMBC's role as a national leader in information technology research and education, and will contribute to Maryland's economic growth and national security," said Freeman Hrabowski, president of UMBC.

“We are so pleased to become an early adopter of this revolutionary shift in semi-conductor chip design,” Halem said. “UMBC is committed to growing its computational science expertise and hopes this collaboration with IBM will allow the university to become a national leader in the applications of future multicore computers as they grow more massive.”

UMBC is a member of IBM’s Academic Initiative, a program sponsored by IBM to upgrade IT skills for a more competitive workforce. Through the Academic Initiative, IBM works with more than 2,200 institutions, 11,000 faculty members and 650,000 students worldwide to build integrated business, science and technology skills to be applied in today’s global economy.

"The opening of the UMBC Multicore Computer Center is yet another example of how IBM innovations are being used to help further the advancement of research and science that benefits business and our communities," said Rod Adkins, senior vice president of development & manufacturing, IBM Systems & Technology Group. "We are convinced of the endless possibilities that can, and will, emerge from this type of collaborative relationship, and are proud to play a role in the launch of the new information technology research center."

In the future, UMBC and IBM officials plan to collaborate on new interdisciplinary research possibilities in chemistry, mathematics and other fields of engineering and information technology.

The Multicore Computing Center is expected to be installed and operational by fall 2007.

Posted: August 23, 2007, 12:00 PM