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 IU Trident Indiana University

Celebrating IU's supercomputing evolution

Project Leads: Craig A. Stewart and all RT personnel

UITS Research Technologies

Supercomputing for Everyone Series

Since 1955 the central computing organization has evolved from a research computing center, with a principle of open access, to a university cyberinfrastructure center operating on a principle of abundance.

Cyberinfrastructure consists of computational systems, data and information management, advanced instruments, visualization environments, and people, all linked together by software and advanced networks to improve scholarly productivity and enable knowledge breakthroughs and discoveries not otherwise possible.

The systems we deliver and the software we support has changed drastically since 1955 and continues to change as new discoveries in information technology (IT) occur. What have not changed are our basic philosophy of service and the commitment of University Information Technology Services (UITS) and the IU Pervasive Technology Institute (PTI) to support the IU research and academic community in innovation and creativity. As Stephen Simms, one of UITS’ leaders in storage technology, once put it: “Each researcher’s research is the most important research there is to them. That’s why they do it.” That goes for artists, engineers, and humanities scholars as well.  While our commitment to IT and IU researchers remains steadfast, the ability of the IU community to take advantage of advanced computing resources and our ability to aid them has changed drastically.

IU’s first generally accessible parallel supercomputer was an Intel Paragon, purchased in 1993. There were fewer than six research groups at IU that made extensive use of the Paragon. The breadth of use of IU supercomputers began to expand in 1996-1997 when two things in particular happened. One was the award of a grant from the National Science Foundation to create a supercomputer resource at IU called SCAAMP, Scientific Applications on Arrays of Multiprocessors This award involved 14 faculty members and University Computing Services, now UITS. The disciplines SCAAMP was intended to support included chemistry, computer science, astronomy, mathematics, physics, and theatre. Theatre? Yes, and this is why this system was a turning point in the wide utilization of supercomputers at IU.  Professor Rob Shakespeare used the SCAAMP system to create some of the largest and most detailed photorealistic simulations of lighting systems (for theatre and in other contexts) that had ever been done to date. The second thing that happened was the arrival of Dr. Michael A. McRobbie to IU as the first Vice President for Information Technology. His charge, put forth by President Myles Brand, was to create a modern information technology environment that would make IU a leader "in absolute terms for uses and applications of IT.”

As Matt Link, director of systems, and his colleagues’ detail in an accompanying article here, people who use the Big Red II supercomputer represent more than 150 disciplines of scholarly and artistic endeavor practiced at Indiana University. Big Red II is not only used by science researchers, but is used by fine arts and performing artists, humanities scholars, clinicians, and engineers as well. Big Red II, and all of IU’s advanced cyberinfrastructure, is successful at impacting the university community as a whole.  Today the users of IU’s supercomputers number in excess of 4,000, a far cry from the six research groups that used the first Intel Paragon. More than 15% of the researcher community at IU Bloomington and over 10% of the community at IUPUI makes some use of UITS supercomputers.  This widespread use is the result of the IU community’s intellectual and artistic leadership, aided by UITS and PTI programs such as the “Supercomputing for Everyone” educational series.

The evolution of IU’s cyberinfrastructure resources continues to expand. We have added a new supercomputer called Karst, and are actively engaged in developing new storage, visualization, and cloud computing resources for use by the IU community.  We are also putting more emphasis on encouraging use of federally funded national cyberinfrastructure systems such as the Open Science Grid and XSEDE, the eXtreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment.

UITS and the IU Pervasive Technology Institute are committed to advancing the endeavors of the IU community. UITS, PTI, and the broader IU IT Pro community are together changing the way IU uses advanced cyberinfrastructure. The innovation and productivity of the IU community has benefitted from this, and our nation and the world benefit from IU’s leadership in innovation, discovery, and creativity.

For more information:

See for a timeline of the evolution of IU’s advanced information technology

For information about the Pervasive Technology Institute, the Research Technologies Division of UITS, and IU’s advanced cyberinfrastructure see