Sources: Adam Tygart, firstname.lastname@example.org;
and Daniel Andresen, 785-532-6350, email@example.com
Photo available. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 785-532-6415.
News release prepared by: Kristin Hodges, 785-532-6415, email@example.com
Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009
K-STATE FRESHMAN MANAGES LARGEST SUPERCOMPUTER IN KANSAS, SUPPORTING RESEARCH PROJECTS ACROSS CAMPUS
MANHATTAN -- Many researchers at Kansas State University do such sizeable projects -- like identifying genetic markers that correlate to drought resistance in plants -- that they rely on computational support from the largest supercomputer in the state.
K-State's Beocat is a cluster of servers that allows for larger research projects to run simulations on a machine that is guaranteed to be constantly running for at least two weeks. The system administrator is a K-State freshman, Adam Tygart, who studies computer science. He is a 2006 graduate of Saint Francis High School.
"Most people's computers aren't going to be able to constantly run for two weeks solid," Tygart said. "We have a lot more powerful systems than most people's desktops or laptops."
Beocat is a cluster in K-State's computing and information sciences department in the College of Engineering. The cluster's design type is called Beowulf, so the designers called K-State's form Beocat. The system has 122 servers that work together as Kansas' largest academic research supercomputer.
"Supercomputer is a generic term for a cluster for this type of high-performance computing resource," Tygart said. "It's easier to think of something as a single machine, so it's called a supercomputer rather than what it really is, which is lots of smaller computers that can work together."
Daniel Andresen, associate professor of computing and information sciences, oversees Beocat. He said a typical desktop computer has one or two cores in its central processing unit, but Beocat has more than 1,000 cores. Similarly, most desktops have about two gigabytes of memory, but many research projects -- like those that work with genetics -- need much more. Beocat has 10 machines that each have 64 gigabytes of memory that make it possible to address much more sophisticated problems.
"If a normal computer is like a car, a supercomputer is like a freight train -- it completely changes the paradigm," Andresen said.
High-performance computing is a competitive necessity for today's researchers in many fields, and Beocat fills a vital role for K-State's research community, Andresen said.
"For example, a K-State researcher in statistics got results back in a few hours for investigations that would have taken more than two months on her desktop," he said. "This was a tremendous advantage in trying to get research accomplished and published before her competition."
Beocat supports various research projects on campus, including a class project involving security research on cracking passwords and another project that involves simulating the ability of a drug to penetrate a cellular membrane. The system supports about 230 users on campus, though Tygart said there are fewer of those users on at the same time.
"Researchers don't have to worry about system administration," Tygart said. "A lot of these people are researchers first and not computer scientists. With Beocat, they don't have to worry about something like security vulnerability. It's taken care of."
Tygart, who ran his own computer repair business as a teenager, also has had experience doing network and server administration. For Beocat, he said he works about 25 hours a week in his office but is on call if any problems occur. He typically works from his laptop, and he said he is able to singly manage the system because of its stability and good design.
"If we need to update something, I'm there to take care of it, and if any of our users have problems, I take care of it," Tygart said.
Tygart said this job not only applies to his degree but also allows him to be financially stable while getting his education. He plans to pursue a career in computer programming.
"I believe this job will allow me to understand the challenges that face many computer scientists with respect to the changing face of computing," Tygart said. "It may seem extreme now, but personal computing is being pushed into multiple cores and gigabytes of memory. The problems that I face on a supercomputer now are those that we will see on a personal computer later."