News Service


Mark Gordon, Ames Laboratory, (515) 294-0452
Dick Booth, IBM, (507) 253-4167
Saren Johnston, Ames Laboratory, (515) 294-3474


AMES, Iowa -- The U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University will host IBM officials on April 12 when they arrive in Ames to formally announce the company's selection of ISU's chemistry department as the recipient of a Shared University Research grant.

The daylong visit will include a 9:45 a.m. stop at Ames Laboratory's Scalable Computing Lab (SCL) to see the network of 15 dual-processor, top-of-the-line IBM Power3 RS/6000 43P Model 260 workstations made possible by the SUR grant. The chemistry department, SCL and Ames Laboratory's Condensed Matter Physics Program will use the workstations to foster "cluster computing."

Cluster computing involves networking groups of high- performance workstations to create clusters that operate at supercomputer speed and at a very economical cost.

"The SUR grant is highly competitive," said Mark Gordon, an ISU distinguished professor of chemistry and director of Ames Laboratory's Applied Mathematics and Computational Sciences Program. "The fact that we received it says that Ames Lab's and ISU's combined expertise is very attractive to IBM and that they see great promise in our collaborative efforts."

Jeff VerHeul, vice president of Server and Workstation Development, IBM Server Group, said the SUR grant allows IBM, Ames Lab and ISU to work closely to explore the performance of clustered systems. "All three organizations will benefit from the discovery and shared learning currently underway," said VerHeul, who received a bachelor's degree in computer engineering from ISU in 1980. "Professor Gordon's team has built a world-class learning laboratory using this new technology to solve real-world scientific problems."

Fondly called, "Cluster," because SCL researchers have been using it to do calculations on clusters of atoms, the network of 15 IBM RS/6000 workstations will be used to determine the best ways to communicate between computers in a cluster and for applications in theoretical chemistry and physics, such as running quantum chemistry code and modeling new materials with specific magnetic and high-temperature properties.

Gordon said he thinks there is a good chance that Cluster may become an IBM showcase system. "I know there are other SUR grants like this one where the focus is to use the RS/6000 workstations to do good science. Ames Lab and ISU are already doing good science, and because of the SCL, we'll also be able to supply feedback on future developments that may be of benefit to IBM," he explained. "That's why it's a real partnership." Gordon added, "One of the reasons for the existence of the SCL is to develop new methods for doing scalable computing. We are hoping that people in other parts of the ISU campus and the Ames Laboratory will make use of Cluster to gain expertise in how to do high-performance computing on systems like this, and to extend that expertise to training students."

A tribute to the success of the cluster computing effort made possible by IBM's SUR grant is recent DOE funding to substantially enhance the RS/6000 cluster -- possibly increasing it to 24 dual-processor workstations. "What makes this even more interesting is a pending proposal to the National Science Foundation, which we hope would allow us to expand to 32 dual-processor workstations," Gordon said.

Ames Laboratory is operated for the DOE by Iowa State University. The Lab conducts research into areas of national concern that include energy resources, high-speed computer design, environmental cleanup and restoration, and the synthesis and study of new materials.

Note: IBM officials will be available to the media from 9:45- 10:15 a.m. in The Scalable Computing Laboratory in 317 Wilhelm Hall on the ISU campus.


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