23 Sep 2009

Is Holyoke Ready To Pioneer And Dominate An Industry Once Again?

I went to the Green High Performance Computing Center (GHPCC) meeting in the Kittredge Center at Holyoke Community College on Wednesday September 23rd.  The turnout was fantastic - people from the Holyoke city government, business owners, and citizens were there.  The meeting was scheduled to run from 10:30am to 11:30am, but it went a little long and ended a bit before noon.

Here's the agenda, as listed in the available handout:

10:00 Welcome & Purpose 10:10 Centennial Park, North Carolina 11:00 Status Reports 11:25 Closing Comments 11:30 Adjourn
The schedule was followed pretty well, aside from Eric Nakajima having been caught in traffic on I90 (which resulted in a well-cheered comment about how a rail transit system would have been useful).

Pat Larkin's introduction gave some good perspective on the overall project as well as where we currently stand with the project itself.  He emphasized the fact that we are not only very early in the planning process, but also on the bleeding edge of projects like this across the country as well.  It's important that this fact is kept in the back of our minds as the GHPCC project continues, as this is certain to evolve over time.

Bob Kispet's presentation dealt with three other examples of Computing Centers that the GHPCC here in Holyoke will be loosely based on; Research Triangle (established in 1959), Centennial Campus (established in 1984), and Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI, established in 2004) which will likely be the closest comparison to our own GHPCC of the three.

It's important to note that this is not a simple project to renovate a building to hold a data/computing center.  This project actually aims to be more like a full community or campus-like environment.  The GHPCC is estimated to span about 4 acres, with additional districts set up around it.  As a comparison to comprehend the scale of this project:  Research Triangle operated for almost 20 years before it become solvent in 1973.  RENCI has an annual budget of $18.4million and acts as a partnership with Duke, NCSU, UNC-CH, and State of NC.  Centennial Campus has more than $1.2billion currently invested in infrastructure.

The computing power present in the GHPCC will be based on researcher's needs.  The main use of the computing power will be for universities/research, and leftover CPU cycles or server time could be sold to third parties.  There was a bit of a discussion, at this meeting, about the actual servers that will be present in the GHPCC but it's really too early to say anything other than "it's going to be wow powerful" because there's too much planning time required before those specifications will need to be set in stone.

There are three work streams going on at once to accomplish this project: the Business plan, the Infrastructure, and Research, Education & Outreach.  These three aspects will determine who owns & operates the GHPCC, what's exactly in it, and what collaborative research, education & outreach it will enable.  Also, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission is involved, but I'm not sure to what extent.  The planning group is set to have their report ready sometime in the late middle of October, at which point it will be passed back to Governor Deval Patrick and decisions will be made by all partners involved.  The mid/late October deadline is simply for a go/no-go answer from the partners involved, and probably won't involve any actual ground-breaking ceremony.  From comments at the meeting (I'm correcting myself a bit here on Oct. 2nd based on emails with Kathy Anderson), the goal is to have a running system within two years.  One important and interesting point brought up by Eric Nakajima (the main person responsible for the GHPCC planning) was that there is a strong focus on being able to get immediate return value from the GHPCC in addition to the long term investment.

Citizens of Holyoke, and organizations/groups within Holyoke should start forming their opinions of what they want Holyoke to be, and how the GHPCC can play a part in that vision.  After the decision in mid/late October, citizen opinion will start taking a bigger role in the project.  It's also reassuring to know that Eric Nakajima took a moment during the meeting to specifically point out that city officials in Holyoke have been tremendously great to work with.

As Pat Larkin pointed out during the meeting, Holyoke was once a world power by being the first planned city in the United States, and by using its strengths to dominate the Paper Industry.  Holyoke now has the potential to regain that title by using these same strengths to pioneer and dominate the new industry of High Performance Computing.

The next meeting is planned for Wednesday, October 21st: 3pm in the Kittridge Business Center at Holyoke Community College


bob-kispert eric-nakajima ghpcc green high-performance-computing-center holyoke mtc-john-adams-innovation-institute pat-larkin pioneer-valley-planning-commission rick-adrion university-of-massachusetts-amherst

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