Campus News

Bioinformatics investment in computing promises big return

With the launch this month of a new high-performance computing cluster in UGA’s Research Computing Center, bioinformatics researchers at the university can expand their core business: research. The new high-speed computing system analyzes their data 10 to 100 times faster than previous machines, reducing the time it takes to solve a complex problem from many weeks to days or hours.

Just as important, with these computing resources in place at UGA, researchers can cite access to substantial information technology infrastructure in their grant submissions-a big plus with grant agencies scrutinizing proposal budgets.

The Institute of Bioinformatics recently invested $500,000 in the RCC to bring the new computing cluster online and ensure its members have priority access to the RCC’s computing power. The first HPC cluster in the RCC, brought online in 2004, serves approximately 35 research laboratories, or 200 people, on campus, mostly in physics and chemistry. The cluster, which is suited to the types of problems faced by life sciences researchers, has more than 1.25 trillions of operations per second, effectively doubling the high-powered resources available to UGA researchers. The Linux-based Rackable Systems cluster will support numerous research projects of IOB members including analyses of genome structure in the grasses, fungal biological circuits, assembly and annotation of avian coronaviruses, marine metagenomics and a parasite vaccinomics project, to name a few.

IOB members are not the only beneficiaries of the partnership between the IOB and the RCC, according to Jerry NeSmith, director of the Office of Research Services and a co-director of the RCC. Computing resources not used by IOB members are available to the entire UGA research community.

The RCC, a partnership between the Office of the Chief Information Officer and the Office of the Vice President for Research, was initiated in 2004 as a means of centralizing IT resources to better support faculty research. Since then, investment in the RCC by the University of Georgia Research Foundation and now, the IOB, has climbed to more than $6 million.

The return on that investment is very positive, said NeSmith. Approximately $16.5 million of existing research has been supported by the RCC. An additional $27 million in new external funding can be attributed, at least in part, to researchers’ ability to cite the capability and support of the RCC research infrastructure, and an additional 86 research proposals worth approximately $43.9 million are outstanding.

Centralizing IT resources reduce the time it takes for a researcher to “go live” on new grant-funded IT investments, minimizes UGA’s facility and energy costs, provides state-of-the-art security and provides a high level of professional systems administration from the RCC staff, according to NeSmith.

Supporting faculty research through ­investment in information technology resources is a priority for UGARF and UGA, said Vice President for Research David Lee. Investments in high-speed, high-capacity computing include UGA’s connection to the Southern Light Rail, a regional optical network for research that is connected to the National LambdaRail, a fiber optic network for rapid data sharing among public, private and government institutions around the U.S. and the world.

“These investments open the door for UGA collaborations with scientists across the country-and beyond,” said Lee.

UGA’s investments in the RCC, SLR and NLR are “important examples of the leadership role by UGA in the research community and a demonstration of our commitment to high performance computing,” said Barbara A. White, UGA’s chief information officer and associate provost, who is also a SLR board member.