The Division of Information Technology’s Advanced Research Computing unit (ARC) is undergoing a significant expansion in both capabilities and facilities, as the research computing team from the Fralin Life Sciences Institute joins ARC.

This expansion will allow ARC to broaden its service portfolio while improving outreach and client services.

Through this merger, ARC is gaining a highly capable and focused systems engineering team as well as access to the newly renovated high-performance computing data center located in the Fralin Life Sciences Institute’s Steger Hall, allowing continued collaboration between ARC and Fralin Life Sciences Institute research groups. The new data center will facilitate future expansion to incorporate the modern cooling technologies required to enable both cutting-edge architectures and the associated compute-heavy research that will accelerate Virginia Tech’s research ambitions.

Terry Herdman, associate vice president for research computing at Virginia Tech, said, “the accelerated pace at which computing technologies and computing needs in research are developing and advancing has highlighted the need for more specialized facilities and personnel. Through this merger, Virginia Tech is gaining systems engineering expertise and capabilities that will enable us to respond to changes in the computing landscape and help Virginia Tech reach our goal of becoming a top-10 land-grant university.” 

This change will allow ARC to broaden its portfolio of services beyond high-performance computing (HPC), large-scale data storage, visualization, and research consulting to include support of research involving controlled unclassified information and protected health information. ARC also plans to expand outreach efforts to the Virginia Tech research community as well as provide additional training opportunities to help more faculty utilize ARC’s computing resources.

“This new configuration of research computing personnel and facilities to create efficiencies is a collaborative effort between the Division of IT, FLSI, the Division of Research and Innovation, and the Division of Finance,” said Scott Midkiff, vice president for information technology and chief information officer. “It also allows the university to better support a range of research efforts from individual investigators to large-scale multi-institutional projects.”

To ensure an excellent user experience while supporting a higher volume of research, ARC will organize its employees into a computational science team and a systems and operations team. The systems and operations team, led by Director of HPC Operations Kevin Shinpaugh, will work with the computational scientists on the design of new systems and will be responsible for the deployment, optimization, and operation of ARC’s research computing systems, including large-scale storage, and compliance-driven computing and storage systems.

Shinpaugh, who previously worked in ARC before moving to Fralin Life Sciences Institute in 2011 to serve as its director of IT and HPC, said, “I look forward to working with ARC once again to meet Virginia Tech’s research computing needs. We have a great team coming from FLSI to support the expanded infrastructure and capabilities of ARC and to advance the research mission of Virginia Tech.”

The computational science team will focus on supporting the needs of the Virginia Tech research community, helping faculty grow and improve their research programs through training, consulting, and collaboration on sponsored projects. This team will also provide support for visualization activities, including management of Virginia Tech’s Visionarium and classroom outreach through Visualize This! Additionally, the team will work to identify future research computing needs and determine requirements for new systems, ensuring that Virginia Tech’s HPC systems are continually capable of meeting the demands of new and more complex research initiatives.

Currently, the team is completing the installation of ARC’s newest HPC cluster, TinkerCliffs — a project that has continued despite the impact of COVID-19 on Virginia Tech’s operations. Shinpaugh notes that the bulk of the logistical work was done remotely, allowing the physical installation to proceed with minimal on-site staff.

Person adjusting hardware on supercomputer.
A technician works on the installation of TinkerCliffs, ARC's newest supercomputer.

“We faced many unique challenges in completing the installation after the university moved to an essential operations status due to COVID-19. The expanded ARC team had to work virtually together to plan and implement the installation and configuration of TinkerCliffs,” said Shinpaugh. The installation is nearly complete, and TinkerCliffs is expected to be available to researchers in August 2020.

To learn more about Advanced Research Computing at Virginia Tech, visit arc.vt.edu.