Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
New York State has laid claim to an economic development tool like no other. A supercomputer housed at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute upstate. Available to businesses for free.
In return for its investment in a $100 million partnership with Rensselaer and IBM, the state is entitled 20 percent usage of the supercomputer. For three years, businesses, universities and state agencies can apply for time on the IBM Blue Gene supercomputer.
And no, you NY computer geeks reading this, that does NOT mean souped-up lunch-time games of World of Warcraft, Halo or Zap in Space.
How does a supercomputer benefit businesses? In research and development, speed is everything. If businesses can reduce the trial-and-error period part of product development by accelerating computations and simulations, products get to market more quickly. The promise of access to this computing giant helps the state at a time when the fiscal environment leaves little cash for traditional economic incentives.
New York is giving computer preference to economic development. But it also hopes that state agencies can use the computing power to solve complex problems in cyber security, transportation and other fields.
How to explain just how fast a supercomputer is to someone who doesn't understand 80 teraflops? Think of it this way. If a computer with one processor takes 24 hours to analyze or render a modeling problem, a computer with two should take 12 hours. A computer with 24 processors should do the calculation in one hour.
The supercomputer has 32,000 processors, all working simultaneously. Complex modeling problems are solved in a snap...or whatever the computer equivalent of a snap would be. Those doing the work can run their experiments, "in a way scientists five years ago couldn't have believed," says Ed Reinfurt, executive director of the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation, or NYSTAR. "It's one of its kind in the nation," says Reinfurt.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.