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Professor and Student Create High Performance Computer Cluster
January 18, 2005


Macon—A student-professor team from Mercer University's College of Liberal Arts have built a highly sophisticated computer cluster that performs advanced scientific calculations at rates sometimes exceeding 8.5 billion calculations per second. Supercomputers with the type of power the computer cluster the two have created can easily exceed $1 million in cost. Andrew Pounds, associate professor of computer science estimates that this project cost about $50,000.

Pounds designed and constructed the "Olympus Cluster," with the help of Bennie Coleman, a computer science and information technology major at Mercer. It consists of 44 computers that students and faculty traditionally use for common Windows functions on the Macon campus during the day. After the computer lab closes at 6 p.m., the computers are programmed to automatically reboot. When they reboot, the computers are linked to work as one "supercomputer," working together to perform highly advanced scientific calculations.

Pounds, who specializes in quantum mechanics in addition to high-performance computing, says the new computer cluster has allowed him to complete calculations for his research that would ordinarily take several months in just a couple of weeks. He hopes that the new cluster will also help other faculty members with their research, and he plans to use it in a future parallel computing course at the University.

"The cluster is a significant addition to the computational resources at Mercer," he said. "Its computing power opens the door to certain areas of scientific, medical, engineering and computational research previously possible only at major research universities.  The design of the system also serves as a model for others who want to optimally use their computing resources for both teaching and research."

Coleman, a junior at Mercer, said he is glad he has been able to work on a project of this magnitude as a student. His job was to write the software that rebooted the computers at the appropriate time so they could be linked together.

"I've gained a much deeper understanding of how computers work and the Linux operatating system," the student from Athens, Ga., said.

Coleman served as a co-author with Pounds on a paper describing the creation of the cluster. The peer-reviewed paper was recently accepted for publication and presentation at the March 2005 Southeastern meeting of the Association of Computing Machinery.

The project was possible with a grant from Altair Grid Technologies and funding from the College of Liberal Arts' Dean's Office and the Department of Computer Science. Rajeev Nalluri, the systems administrator for the computer science building, was also instrumental in the creation of the cluster.