Downhill—moving fast!

6 February 2020

During the first week of January, I attended a Mindshare, hosted by Swarthmore, on High-Performance Computing in the Liberal Arts. Like Carleton, Swarthmore has just started on its High-Performance Computing (HPC) journey.

Academic research is becoming increasingly reliant on computational analysis. To speed up this analysis, more and more computational processing power is required. To help in this endeavor for more processing power, liberal arts colleges are looking for ways to gain access and utilize HPC. IT departments have become a key partner in providing access to and administering these systems.

Some of the CLAC (Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges) schools have started to maintain their own HPC systems, with others using cloud-based computing to provide these services to their faculty and students. The goal of the Mindshare was to learn what other CLAC schools are doing with HPC, to share practices, and to discuss how to best support our users.

An interesting conversation at the conference centered on the options available to liberal arts colleges. The cost of a full HPC cluster can be prohibitively expensive and require dedicated staff. At Carleton, we currently have a small cluster co-managed by ITS and Computer Science. The system is presently running research for Biology, Biochemistry and Computer Science. One potential idea for the future would be to run a small pilot project which utilizes cloud-based resources. This will enable us to expand our computer processing power far beyond standard desktops.