UAB announces an expansion, giving it the fastest supercomputer in Alabama by far

UAB now has far and away the fastest supercomputer in Alabama, accelerating the volume and speed at which transformational education, research and medical care can occur.


Frank Skidmore, M.D., relies on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s high-performance supercomputer to help process the brain images he studies to research diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

The latest expansion of the UAB supercomputer — named Cheaha after Alabama’s highest peak — increases the computer’s power fourfold and will reduce the amount of time it takes to process one brain image to less than two hours, an improvement that can lead to advanced diagnosis and treatment, Skidmore says.

“What Cheaha has allowed me to do is accelerate the entire research process,” said Skidmore, UAB associate professor of neurology. “If you can see better, you can plan better; you can treat better.”

“What Cheaha has allowed me to do is accelerate the entire research process,” said Skidmore. “If you can see better, you can plan better; you can treat better.”

UAB has added 72 graphics processing units, which will boost the Cheaha supercomputer’s power to 450 teraflops. A teraflop is a unit of computing speed equal to 1 trillion floating-point operations per second.

This latest expansion makes Cheaha far and away the fastest supercomputer in Alabama and one of the five fastest at academic institutions in the Southeast — and knocking on the door of the Top 500, a list of the fastest supercomputers in the world.

“Our goal is to empower greatness in others,” said Curtis A. Carver Jr., Ph.D., vice president and chief information officer. “UAB’s continued investment in the high-performance computing infrastructure can lead to exciting discoveries by our researchers, faculty and students that change the world.”

Improving overall IT infrastructure on campus has been vital to giving UAB researchers competitive advantages for grants and to make world-changing discoveries. Among the improvements in recent years are a new Science DMZ that gives researchers a dedicated network to share information and a 100Gb network that improves speed and capacity across campus.

“Our commitment to expanding the IT infrastructure at UAB gives us an advantage as we attract the top talent among students, faculty and staff, and as our campus community secures grant funding to pursue better care for our patients and new discoveries in all disciplines.”

“Our commitment to expanding the IT infrastructure at UAB,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts, “gives us an advantage as we attract the top talent among students, faculty and staff, and as our campus community secures grant funding to pursue better care for our patients and new discoveries in all disciplines.”

Future plans for the supercomputer at UAB include boosting the power of the Cheaha supercomputer to 1,000 teraflops, increasing IT staff resources to work closely with researchers to meet their computing needs, and expanding partnerships with Oak Ridge and the National Science Foundation so that UAB researchers can use their computing power if needed.

The current expansion of the Cheaha supercomputer was funded by UAB Information Technology; but previous expansions were paid for by a combination of university funds — including from the president’s strategic fund, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the schools of Engineering and Public Health — as well as by a grant from the Alabama Innovation Fund.

UAB IT worked with Dell to install the new graphics processing units.

UAB has more than $500 million in annual research and development expenditures, and secures more research funding every year than all other universities in Alabama combined, bringing high-impact innovations, as well as jobs and a tremendous economic benefit, to Birmingham, Alabama and beyond. UAB is Alabama’s largest single employer and has an annual economic impact exceeding $7.15 billion in the state.

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