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Shared calculations

Half of the computer time on Unicamp's high performance computer was used by researchers from other states

Just three years after it came into operation, a computer system acquired in 2006 by the National High Performance Data Processing Center in Campinas, state of São Paulo (Cenapad-SP), is already a success story. The machine, which was financed by FAPESP, has become widely used by researchers from all over Brazil: no less than 50% of the system’s usage time up to August 2008 was dedicated to the calculations of researchers from other states, especially from Rio Grande do Sul, Ceará, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Maranhão. The other half of the time on the machine, which is housed at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), was shared with institutions from the state of São Paulo. For instance, groups from the University of São Paulo (USP) accounted for 31.87% of the equipment’s time. Unicamp was in second place, with 11.14% of the time, followed by the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) with 2.25%, the State University of São Paulo (Unesp) with 2.06%, the National Institute of Space Research (Inpe) with 0.99% and, last, the Federal University of ABC (UF­ABC) with 0.88%. “FAPESP’s investment has yielded results in several parts of Brazil,” states Edison Zacarias da Silva, a professor at Unicamp’s Gleb Wataghin Physics Institute, and the coordinator of Cenapad-SP. The purchase was made thanks to FAPESP’s Multiuser Equipment Program and cost US$ 390 thousand.

The bottom line regarding the computer is opportune, as it has just completed its most important operating cycle. Recently, the computer began to work in tandem with an even more modern one, whose processing capacity is three times greater and which was financed by the federal government. According to Edison Zacarias da Silva, without this acquisition back in 2006, the computer simulations performed over the last three years in fields such as physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, mathematics and genomics would all have been jeopardized. “Our machines were becoming obsolete, as were those of the other Cenapads throughout Brazil, all of which make up the National High Performance Computing System (Sinapad), and the federal government, which we have links to, did not provide us with enough funds at that time to update the systems,” claims the professor.

Sinapad consists of seven High Performance Centers and it is linked to the Ministry of Science and Technology and to the National Research Network. “Thanks to FAPESP’s help, São Paulo’s Cenapad found itself in a better position, which is why it became a reference for researchers from other states,” he points out. During the period the center was home to the largest research-focused computer installation in Brazil. To get an idea of the importance of the machine financed by FAPESP, until last April, USP’s share of the computer’s time was 42% – that percentage has only now been reduced, because the new system, which has a processing capacity three times greater, came into operation a few months ago and USP’s researchers have started using this new equipment more. USP also benefited from FAPESP’s Multiuser Equipment Program: in 2007, the university’s Electronic Computer Center received an IBM PowerPC 970 supercomputer that, at the time, made it the first one in Brazilian academic circles to make it into the Top 500 ranking of the world’s most powerful computers. Equipped with 448 processors operating in tandem, this computer can carry out a total of 2.9 trillion operations a second (teraflops).

The Cenapad-SP machine financed by FAPESP, which was supplied by Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI), is a system consisting of 70 processors, with a processing capacity of 420 gigaflops. There is a huge scientific demand for high performance calculations in Brazil and the average waiting time in the line for Unicamp’s Cenapad is about five days. The computing installations are used by remote access. Via the internet, registered researchers can submit their research calculation requests from their personal computers; the output can be viewed, collected and analyzed by researchers at their institutions. When the calculations are completed, the researcher receives an automatic e-mail notice about this. Most of Cenapad’s machine time is used by physicists, especially for solving problems in the field of nano-science. In the case of the system acquired in 2006, physics researchers accounted for 87% of the machine’s use, followed by researchers in chemistry (7.2%), engineering (3.5%), biology (0.8%), mathematics (0.2%) and computer science (0.2%). The researchers present annual reports in which they list the academic production that is related to the use of Cenapad systems. Over a time frame of three years, this computer has resulted in a total of 211 papers being published in international magazines, 187 works being presented at international congresses, 13 doctoral theses and 16 master’s degree dissertations.