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Institute to Shut Down Cray

By Arif Husain
Staff Reporter

The MIT Supercomputer Facility will be shut down June 30 due to "financial constraints and an uncertain hardware landscape," according to a letter by MITSF Co-directors Robert A. Brown and Anthony T. Patera.

The Cray X-MP supercomputer was used for computationally-intensive studies by nearly every department of science and engineering, said Eddie Andrews, an administrator in the Provost's Office.

The facility was a collaborative effort focused on making time on the Cray available for education and research on campus, Patera said.

The supercomputer provided software that ran much faster than regularly available software, making for a better educational environment, according to Patera.

Although the upcoming shutdown may hamper some research, Patera does not feel it is a setback, since the Cray is an outdated, discontinued model, he said. "The Cray is now an old machine. The new workstations will very quickly eclipse our old and venerable supercomputer."

Current users may subscribe to the supercomputing facilities provided by the National Science Foundation, which grants free usage for educational projects throughout the country.

The mainframe will be returned to its manufacturer at the end of its 5-year agreement, Patera said.

Many used supercomputer facility

Access to MITSF was granted through purchase of research time by interested parties or in block educational grants to Institute departments, Patera said.

In addition, students could access the supercomputer for up to 15 minutes per day through the Transparent Computing Module project, which allowed them run some commands on the Cray.

This service was widely used by undergraduate and graduate students, Andrews said. Patera added that there were more than 1,000 registered users in all.

While the bulk of usage was from MIT, Lincoln Laboratories, Whitehead Institute, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute also held projects using the facility.

Although the Cray will be shut down, the Data Center will continue its other tasks. Administrative tasks were handled by an IBM ES9000 mainframe and an array of smaller workstations, according to David F. Lambert, manager of Computer Operations at the Data Center.

These tasks manage administrative matters, such as student registration, business accounts, budget information, and payroll services, Lambert said. The Data Center also produces millions of pages of printed forms such as ledgers, financial statements, and other administrative documents.

The Cray had two Information Systems workers designated to its physical maintenance. MITSF employed IS to provide technical services such as regular backups, hardware and software support, and network maintenance.

MITSF was responsible for administrative support, including the creation of accounts, and the sale of usage time on the facility.