When a $15 million federally funded building belonging to no particular
department appears north of the Park Building, the effect on the University
community can be a little bewildering. Just what goes on inside the mysterious
Intermountain Network and Scientific Computation Center anyway?
A walk through INSCC's hallways gives no clue. More than any building on
campus, the interior resembles an office building, complete with work carrels,
small offices, and ubiquitous computer terminals.
What is not visible is the core/electronic center that provides researchers
with access to high-power computing that dwarfs the supercomputers of a few
years ago. Even more important is that this computing and networking power
is used without regard to the usual boundaries that separate disciplines.
No less than eight academic departments from the colleges of Science,
Engineering, and Mines and Earth Sciences are already joining in projects
that range from simulation of explosions, to groundwater studies, to an analysis
of the universe as revealed in cosmic ray data.
It is this ability to work together that is the essence of INSCC and, indeed,
a strength of the University of Utah itself, arrivals from other institutions
At the INSCC building dedication, Research Vice President Richard Koehn said,
"INSCC both reflects and represents a significant change in the structure
of research, from discipline-based research, to a functional grouping of
scientists that ignores traditional academic boundaries."
At its hub is the Center for High-Performance Computing, which provides and
maintains four state-of-the-art, large-scale computers, including one of
the world's most powerful graphics supercomputing facilities. It doesn't
matter to users that some of the computers are physically located in other
buildings, because information is shared among workstations across campus.
The center is a terminus for the National Science Foundation's vBNS network,
the nation's fastest high-speed national communications and computational
network. The U of U is also a member of the initiative to create an Internet
2 for high-speed transmission of data.
INSCC is also an example of how investment in research generates a "leveraged"
effect in attracting external funding involving tens of millions of dollars.
Already there are partnerships with IBM, SGI and SUN, as well as the awarding
to the U of the northern hemisphere cosmic ray observatory of the Pierre
Auger astrophysics project. The U of U is also one of five University Alliance
Centers in the Department of Energy's Accelerate Strategic Computing Initiative.
Koehn says the opening of the new building represents nothing less than a
major adaptation to how science is accomplished. "The future successful
university, in both research and instruction, will depend on rapid, efficient,
inexpensive, and large scale communication of the kind under development
in INSCC. This changing paradigm will push non-adapting universities back
to the margin of science."