Murdock grant awarded for new computing system

Sue Mitchell
June 23, 2016

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has received a two-year grant for an energy-efficient, high-performance computing cluster. The new Penguin Computing cluster was launched in January 2016 and has been incrementally expanding since.

The new cluster was named Chinook in honor of deceased UAF colleague Kevin Engle, who was known for his passion for salmon and Alaska.

Chinook is a Linux condo model cluster that will be used by University of Alaska researchers and collaborators. The cluster is in the UA Butrovich Data Center, an environmentally controlled office space on the Fairbanks campus.

“This community, condo model project launches a significant change in how high-performance computing resources are offered to the UA community,” said Gwendolyn Bryson, manager of Research Computing Systems at the UAF Geophysical Institute. “Chinook is more capable, more flexible and more efficient than our current resources. ”

The M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust has partnered with the Geophysical Institute, UAF vice chancellor of research, UAF International Arctic Research Center and UAF IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence to expand Chinook. The $415,000 grant, along with an equal match from the university, is funding the project.

The project will phase out older high-performance equipment such as Pacman and Fish.

The Chinook’s capabilities can be used by anyone in the UA system. The condo model allows for incremental expansion of shared infrastructure and encourages researchers to purchase shares that give them priority access to a resource beyond what they might procure individually.

Chinook may help researchers solve questions about climatic variability in Alaska and compute more accurate estimates of ice loss and sea level rises with higher-resolution ice sheet modeling. Chinook could also be used for research in bioinformatics, biogeochemical modeling, and studies involving the analysis of radio signals passing through the ionosphere.

The new computing cluster is expected to provide more computational capacity and use less power, saving UAF about $250,000 annually in electricity.

The M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust focuses funding primarily on colleges and universities in the Northwest, with an average of 60 grants administered each year for scientific research.

This year, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust will celebrate its 40th anniversary and will hold a celebration in Fairbanks on June 23. From 5-6 p.m. there will be an informational session in the Margaret Murie Building auditorium, followed by a Founder’s Day reception from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the UA Museum of the North.