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Blue Waters Decommissioning FAQ

Why is Blue Waters being decommissioned?

Blue Waters was a highly successful project, helping the national academic community as well as Illinois researchers obtain scientific results that would not have been possible otherwise. Although Blue Waters is a uniquely well-designed, productive, general purpose and high-capacity machine, supercomputing technology has evolved, and Blue Waters has run its course, as expected. The planned period of operation was 2013 – 2018; we’ve been able to run Blue Waters for several additional years.

Why wouldn’t the University of Illinois just fund Blue Waters operations?

Blue Waters operated longer than expected at the start of the project – nine years as opposed to the originally planned five. This was a result of good project management, lower-than-anticipated utility costs and supplemental external funding. We’re looking toward providing innovative systems, developing software and applications, and broadening the access to, and use of, advanced computing technologies.

What’s next for the university’s vision for advanced computing?

NCSA and UIUC will continue to develop new computing technologies that take advantage of advances in computing algorithms, hardware, and software. These large-scale projects require collaboration with federal funding agencies and industry and academic partners; we will continue to pursue such opportunities.

Where am I going to compute?

At NCSA a new computing system, Delta, is expected to become available in the spring of 2022. Delta will be part of the National Science Foundation-funded XSEDE network, a virtual organization that integrates and coordinates the sharing of advanced digital resources and services including supercomputers. Investigators are encouraged to apply for an XSEDE allocation for Delta or for other systems across the country available through XSEDE. There are also UIUC-specific allocations for Delta; watch for the next allocation announcement. Researchers looking for petascale resources may consider applying for an allocation on the Frontera supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, or the Cheyenne supercomputer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. There are also supercomputers available to academic researchers through the Department of Energy and NASA’s High-End Computing Capability program. UIUC researchers may also arrange to use the Illinois Campus Cluster or other campus systems and pay from their research funds.

What are the Blue Waters staff going to do now?

The staff currently working on the Blue Waters Project is funded through the entire calendar year 2022 as they work on the final phase of the project and other associated efforts. After December 2022, the Blue Waters team may be deployed onto other projects at NCSA as applicable.

What happens to the NPCF building?

The National Petascale Computing Facility, which completed construction in 2010 to accommodate Blue Waters, will continue to house other NCSA systems, and we are considering additional options to house computing and data resources. We plan to upgrade the building’s infrastructure with more efficient power and cooling for the machine room, modernizing the facility to keep pace with current trends.

Can I have one last look at Blue Waters?

NCSA suspended visitor tour operations indefinitely in March 2020, at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. With preparations for the decommissioning and dismantling of Blue Waters as well as other work taking place in the NCSA machine room, it currently is not a safe environment for visitors. But Blue Waters was always about much more than just a machine: Be sure to check out some of the wonderful scientific advances that the supercomputer and the Blue Waters team helped bring about.

How much did Blue Waters cost? Who funded it?

Blue Waters was designed and built with a $208M award from the National Science Foundation. NSF also provided $150M over five years for operations, however, with careful management this operations money was stretched to cover additional years. The state of Illinois provided $65M to build the National Petascale Computing Facility to house Blue Waters and other NCSA systems as there was not a building on campus with sufficient space, power and cooling capacity. The University contributed about $20M to provide network and off-line storage infrastructure. An agreement with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency provided funding to cover Blue Waters operations from December 20, 2019 to December 31, 2021.

What were some of the highlights from the project?

Blue Waters was a universal instrument for science, pioneering amazing discoveries in hundreds of disciplines, including space science, Earth science, weather, biology, physics, medicine, COVID-19 and more. One of the most unexpected and remarkable successes of Blue Waters was being included in a landmark gerrymandering decision from the Ohio Supreme Court ruling their congressional districting was unconstitutional. University of Illinois researcher Wendy Cho used a novel algorithm to produce an array of map scenarios that could be compared to their current map. Cho served as an expert witness and presented results from her simulations on Blue Waters to objectively compare bias and unbiased redistricting. And one of the most significant successes was the creation of digital elevation maps of the Arctic and Antarctic regions with partners at the Polar Center at the University of Minnesota, the Ohio State University and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. This partnership resulted in the continuing operation of Blue Waters for 2020–21 for the primary purpose of producing digital elevation maps of the entire Earth under funding provided by the NGA. We encourage you to learn more about the Blue Waters research successes.

Was Blue Waters the world’s most powerful supercomputer?

Blue Waters was the fastest supercomputer at a university anywhere in the world until the Frontera supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center came online in 2019. NCSA is currently deploying its next supercomputer, Delta, expected to be among the most powerful at a U.S. university when it becomes operational in early 2022.

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