It is so big that it needs a six square meter room. It can do calculations in a day that would take a normal computer four years. And it’s only using only one-third of its capacity.
This is the new supercomputer that was launched on Tuesday September 4th at the Center for Bioinformatics and Integrative Biology on the República Campus at Universidad Andrés Bello. It is the largest supercomputer in Chile. This initiative will advance drug research and nanotechnology in Chile.
Danilo Gonzalez-Nilo, director of UNAB’s Center for Bioinformatics and Integrative Biology, was in charge of the project to create the computer, which has been dubbed Nano Biotech based on the computer’s intended use. "It took six months to build and was ordered from the United States," he said. Silicon Graphics, a company specializing in the development of this type of equipment, created the computer to fit the needs of the center.
What is the difference between this super computer and a traditional computer? This specialized device is not designed to run traditional programs, but instead focuses on intensive calculations, simulations and the analysis of large data loads.
"Our studies require the assessment, for example, of the interaction of thousands of atoms. A normal calculation requires about 500,000 atoms interacting with each other, which requires teams dedicated to this analysis."
This is where the specifications of the super computer come into play: the computer has 1536 processing cores and 1,024 GB (1TB) of RAM. The former handle the speed and complexity of the calculation, the RAM allows the results to accumulate and store information without slowing the machine down. To provide some perspective, an average desktop computer has two to four processing cores and four GB of RAM.
"With this computer, we will at least double the computing power of science in Chile," says Gonzalez-Nilo, who worked to assemble the supercomputer at Universidad de Talca, which has 300 cores, and the supercomputer at Universidad de Chile, which has close to 800 cores.
The computer will be primarily used to study protein and nanotechnology. It is one of the first projects focused on understanding how heat and pain at the molecular level produce future pain inhibitors, for example, for patients suffering from osteoporosis. It will also be used to study the application of nanomedicine, ie the creation of drugs acting at the molecular level, which are particularly effective in treating cancer.
The plans for the machine have been laid out and next year they will launch a competition to allow different people to use the computer for their own studies and calculations. "Our idea is not to leave behind the rest, but to complement and enhance research in Chile," he said.
This article was originally written in Spanish and has been translated into English to be shared on the Laureate International Universities website.