From Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility: “UT Students Get Bite-Sized Bits of Big Data Centers in ORNL-Led Course”


Oak Ridge National Laboratory

From Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility

20 Dec, 2018
Rachel Harken

Image Credit: Genevieve Martin, ORNL

This fall, staff at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) once again contributed to the “Introduction to Data Centers” course at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT).

Now in its fourth year, the class had the largest and most diverse enrollment yet, with four disciplines represented: computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, and industrial engineering. This year’s students toured the data centers at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF), a DOE Office of Science User Facility located at ORNL, earlier this fall as part of the course.

The multidisciplinary course, part of UT’s data center technology and management minor, introduces students to the many topics involved in building and commanding a data center. Because running a data center requires knowledge in a multitude of areas, no one discipline typically covers the broad spectrum of topics involved.

The multidisciplinary course, part of UT’s data center technology and management minor, introduces students to the many topics involved in building and commanding a data center. Because running a data center requires knowledge in a multitude of areas, no one discipline typically covers the broad spectrum of topics involved.

“We bring in a lot of disciplinary experts from ORNL,” said Stephen McNally, operations manager at the OLCF and the course organizer. “We cover the mechanical and electrical components, but we also focus on project management, commissioning, overall requirements-gathering, and networking.” The current curriculum was developed by McNally, UT interim dean of the College of Engineering Mark Dean, UT professor David Icove, and ORNL project specialist Jennifer Goodpasture.

The students enrolled in the course are provided a request for proposals at the beginning of the year, and they work together throughout the semester to submit a 20- to 30-page proposal to meet the requirements. Because students are often restricted to classes within their majors, the course stresses the interplay between disciplines and showcases areas that might previously have been out of reach.

“Hiring someone straight out of school to do what a data center person does is really difficult, because you have to understand so much about so many different disciplines,” McNally said. “This is primarily why we have such a low talent pool for data center–related jobs. We built this class to help solve that problem.”

The course is opening new opportunities for some students. Two of the students in this year’s class received scholarships to Infrastructure Masons (iMasons), an organization that brings digital infrastructure experts together to network, learn, and collaborate. The students’ enrollment in the course through the new minor degree program qualified them to apply.

Aside from the opportunity to apply for the iMasons scholarship, students learned from new data center professionals in industry this year. One of the course’s new speakers was Frank Hutchison of SH Data Technologies, who talked about his role in building Tennessee’s first tier 3 data center. Tier 3 data centers are available 99.9% of the time, which means they are only down for seconds at a time each year.

“This was the most engaging class we’ve had by far,” McNally said. “These students really got to see how these different disciplines work together to run, build, and operate data centers, and we are excited to continue bringing these folks in and helping to bridge this talent gap in the workforce.”

The team is excited that this course continues to gain traction with the students at UT and is making plans to accommodate more students next fall. The course is currently under consideration for possible expansion into a professional certification program or a distance learning course.

In addition to McNally and Goodpasture, the ORNL team contributing to the course includes Jim Serafin, Jim Rogers, Kathlyn Boudwin, Justin Whitt, Darren Norris, David Grant, Rick Griffin, Saeed Ghezawi, Brett Ellis, Bart Hammontree, Scott Milliken, Gary Rogers, and Kris Torgerson.

See the full article here .


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ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.


The Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF) was established at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2004 with the mission of accelerating scientific discovery and engineering progress by providing outstanding computing and data management resources to high-priority research and development projects.

ORNL’s supercomputing program has grown from humble beginnings to deliver some of the most powerful systems in the world. On the way, it has helped researchers deliver practical breakthroughs and new scientific knowledge in climate, materials, nuclear science, and a wide range of other disciplines.

The OLCF delivered on that original promise in 2008, when its Cray XT “Jaguar” system ran the first scientific applications to exceed 1,000 trillion calculations a second (1 petaflop). Since then, the OLCF has continued to expand the limits of computing power, unveiling Titan in 2013, which is capable of 27 petaflops.

ORNL Cray XK7 Titan Supercomputer

Titan is one of the first hybrid architecture systems—a combination of graphics processing units (GPUs), and the more conventional central processing units (CPUs) that have served as number crunchers in computers for decades. The parallel structure of GPUs makes them uniquely suited to process an enormous number of simple computations quickly, while CPUs are capable of tackling more sophisticated computational algorithms. The complimentary combination of CPUs and GPUs allow Titan to reach its peak performance.

ORNL IBM AC922 SUMMIT supercomputer. Credit: Carlos Jones, Oak Ridge National Laboratory/U.S. Dept. of Energy

With a peak performance of 200,000 trillion calculations per second—or 200 petaflops, Summit will be eight times more powerful than ORNL’s previous top-ranked system, Titan. For certain scientific applications, Summit will also be capable of more than three billion billion mixed precision calculations per second, or 3.3 exaops. Summit will provide unprecedented computing power for research in energy, advanced materials and artificial intelligence (AI), among other domains, enabling scientific discoveries that were previously impractical or impossible.

The OLCF gives the world’s most advanced computational researchers an opportunity to tackle problems that would be unthinkable on other systems. The facility welcomes investigators from universities, government agencies, and industry who are prepared to perform breakthrough research in climate, materials, alternative energy sources and energy storage, chemistry, nuclear physics, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, and the gamut of scientific inquiry. Because it is a unique resource, the OLCF focuses on the most ambitious research projects—projects that provide important new knowledge or enable important new technologies.