In Brief

Breaking ground on a groundbreaking center

NCAR’s next home for supercomputing begins to take shape

18 June 2010  •  More than 100 people assembled on the outskirts of Cheyenne, Wyoming, on 15 June for the official kickoff of construction on the NCAR–Wyoming Supercomputing Center. In May, NSF authorized the project to proceed, a major milestone that paved the way for construction to begin.

Bill Gern and Rick AnthesSigning papers just before the groundbreaking are Bill Gern (left), vice president for research and economic development at the University of Wyoming, and UCAR president Richard Anthes.

The decision to move a key part of NCAR’s facilities nearly 100 miles from the center’s headquarters constitutes a “radical, almost revolutionary experiment,” said UCAR president Richard Anthes (pictured at left) at the groundbreaking ceremony. “This will be one of the biggest and most powerful scientific tools in the world.”

Wyoming governor Dave Freudenthal lauded the unique collaboration that led to NWSC. Partners include NSF, NCAR, and UCAR, as well as the University of Wyoming, Cheyenne LEADS, the Wyoming Business Council, and Cheyenne Light and Power. “When the goal is important . . . people inside this state [will] really pull together and make this work,” said Freudenthal.

The winds of southeastern Wyoming took a breather for the groundbreaking ceremony, which unfolded under bright blue skies after several days of cold rain. “The fact that it’s such a beautiful day is such a good sign,” said NCAR director Roger Wakimoto. He cited the 1959 planning document behind NCAR’s creation and its call for an “array of powerful research tools,” including a computing center.

The community comes to Cheyenne

Along with a wide range of civic and government leaders from Wyoming, several representatives from NSF and UCAR member universities were on hand for the groundbreaking.

Rana Fine and Roger WakimotoRana Fine (University of Miami) and NCAR director Roger Wakimoto enjoy the upbeat proceedings.

“This is so big and so fantastic for us,” said Rana Fine (University of Miami), who heads the UCAR Board of Trustees. Fine pointed out that the entire university community stands to benefit from the research opportunities to be opened up by the enhanced computing that NWSC will enable.

“After extensive planning and preparation, it’s gratifying to see the pieces coming together for construction,” said University of Wyoming president Tom Buchanan. “I look forward to the supercomputing center coming online because it’s so important to the research we’re doing.”

The impetus for the NWSC was the rapidly dwindling ability of NCAR’s Mesa Laboratory to provide the space and electrical power needed to house, cool, and operate the supercomputers of today and tomorrow. Wyoming was chosen after several sites for a new center were considered. “We could get more computing power, almost double as much, and a faster start and larger facility in Cheyenne than any other site,” said Anthes.

The NWSC is expected to rank among the most efficient supercomputing centers on Earth. The center will pursue LEED Gold certification (Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design) from the U.S. Green Building Council.

With the NWSC coming to fruition, “NCAR will be able to continue to provide the high-performance computing we’ve been providing,” says project director Krista Laursen. She noted the paradigm-setting nature of the collaboration with Wyoming partners, which has already boosted the state’s science and technology profile.

“I can’t stop smiling,” said Al Kellie, head of NCAR’s Computational & Information Systems Laboratory. He cautioned, “We’re not going to celebrate until the building is there and the equipment is installed and we’re serving science.”

Next steps

Construction of the $70 million NWSC building on a 24-acre site just west of Cheyenne is being funded by NSF, the state of Wyoming, and UW. The facility will open with a new supercomputer that will be acquired through open competition over the next couple of years. Planning includes an upgrade in technology every two to five years, depending on a number of factors, including budget and market availability.

The center’s progress can be followed on the NWSC website. More information can also be found in an NCAR news release. A slideshow from the event is online.

GroundbreakingDignitaries at the NWSC groundbreaking take shovels in hand. Left to right: Krista Laursen (NCAR), Al Kellie (NCAR), Sarah Ruth (NSF), Roger Wakimoto (NCAR), Richard Anthes (UCAR), Wyoming governor Dave Freudenthal, UW president Tom Buchanan, Bob Jensen (CEO, Wyoming Business Council), Jim Neiman (president, UW Board of Trustees), David Emery (CEO, Black Hills Corporation), and Randy Bruns (CEO, Cheyenne LEADS).