Business Brains

Supercomputer helps businesses, researchers in 'Big Sky Country'

Posting in Energy

Public-private partnership helps organizations gain access to raw computing power.

You can rent most other things in this world, why not a supercomputer?

That's just what environmental groups, researchers and other non-profit organizations are small businesses can now do in Montana, courtesy of Rocky Mountain Supercomputing. The organization's supercomputer was, in effect, paid for by the taxpayers of the state of Montana. It is available to pretty much any researcher, government agency or business in the state or in the neighboring region, for a price.

"We exist as an academic development engine in order to stimulate a new sustainable economy in Montana," says Earl Dodd, a former IBM executive who worked with Rocky Mountain Supercomputing to set up the project and is now president and CEO of the organization.

Dodd and Alex Philp, chairman of the organization, are vague about how much it costs to use the supercomputer. But Dodd says the higher the potential benefit to Montana, the better the pricing that a business or someone else that wants to use it will get.

Here's some perspective from the state's chief business development officer, Evan Barrett:

"Our goal is to diversify Montana's economy and bring high-tech, high-paying jobs to our state. A 21st century technology infrastructure is critical to this effort."

Rocky Mountain's supercomputer, nicknamed Big Sky, is the first one in the state. The supercomputer supports up to 3.8 teraflops, but it can be expanded up to 20 to 50 teraflops. The term FLOP means floating point operations per second and it usually pertains to computers being used for intense scientific calculations. The fastest supercomputer in the world has a theoretical performance of 2.3 petaflops.

Other technology being used by Rocky Mountain includes resources from Adaptive Computing, Microsoft, NextIO and NICE. Big Sky uses Microsoft Windows HPC Server 2008, which makes it easier for your average non-scientist to access its computing resources.

So what exactly are people in a state known mainly for ranching and fishing DOING with a supercomputer. Here are just some examples of how Big Sky is kicking in on behalf or the Big Sky State:

  • An energy company is mapping where wind farms can be place in the state with consideration to climate change and how turbines might perform over a 30-year period.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture is managing global food supply and predicting events that could have an impact on national security.
  • One of the state's Native American reservations is using the technology to study carbon management on tribal lands.
  • Yet another company is using the supercomputer to help develop robots that would be used with tasks in gas fields.

Share this

Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure