UT’s supercomputing center names new head, expands

Jul 3, 2014
Austin American Statesman

The University of Texas at Austin’s supercomputer center has named a new leader and is expanding, as more and more academic disciplines are making use of its resources for research.

Dan Stanzione took over as executive director of the Texas Advanced Computing Center this month, replacing long-time director Jay Boisseau, who stepped down in January.

The center — commonly known as TACC — runs some of the world’s largest computing and data systems, with thousands of users from hundreds of institutions investigating issues like gene sequencing, biofuel production, and weather and climate modeling.

Stanzione, who has been deputy director since 2009, called the new job a “dream position.”

“I think, while we have done many great things here, we’re in the midst of doing many more great things and I feel like we’ve really just scratched the surface of the things we can do,” Stanzione said. “And we have a great future ahead.”

With the growth of areas like big data analytics and cloud computing, more and more new users and disciplines are using the center’s supercomputers, especially in the life sciences, Stanzione said.

“In addition to what we’ve always done in high-performance computing and visualization in support of science and engineering, we have a lot of new frontiers still ahead of us and it’s a great time to be doing this,” he said.

“The University of Texas at Austin has become a global leader in supercomputing thanks to TACC and the research it supports,” said UT Austin President Bill Powers. “Under Dan’s leadership, I believe our computers will become even more powerful and our research even more world-changing.”

UT officials did not give a reason for the departure of Boisseau, who was TACC’s founding director and served for more than 12 years. Under his tenure, TACC grew from a tiny center supporting a small system for UT campus users to a national center running some of the world’s largest computing and data systems.

Last year, the center and its partners were awarded $6 million in federal funding to create a new system, called Wrangler, that will assist researchers who deal with analyzing big data problems to gain scientific insights.

Wrangler, which is scheduled to be deployed in the fall, is expected to work in conjunction with Stampede, the new generation supercomputer at TACC that started work early last year.

In Stampede’s first year of operation, 3,500 researchers nationwide used it to further their science and engineering research projects.

The Wrangler project involves building a data management system that will be more adroit at teasing knowledge out of many thousands of separate computer files. That system for managing and analyzing big, diverse sets of data is designed to help researchers in fields such as energy, communications, weather and global climate, basic biology, genomics, health and medicine.

TACC will also break ground this year on a new $20 million office facility adjacent to its research complex at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus in North Austin, which will allow TACC to expand its visualization capabilities and provide new spaces for training, collaboration and public events.

Currently, the center has about 100 staff and 20 students. The new addition will house another 80 to 90 staff and students and will open in 2016, Stanzione said.

“Computing and data are becoming pervasive in many fields of academic inquiry, including medicine,” he said. “TACC is poised to capitalize on all of these trends and to help even more researchers make new discoveries in the years to come.”

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