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Furniss, Jon (ed.) / Wisconsin engineer
Volume 101, Number 2 (February 1997)

Feldman, Jim
Supercomputing for students,   pp. 4-5

Page 4

Supercomputing for
._No-S             M
If you want to see what the Corn
puter Aided Engineering (CAE)
computer labs will look like in five
years, take a look at the Model Ad-
vanced Facility (MAF) lab, located in
187 CAE. The principal function of the
MAF (founded in the spring of 1994)
is to preview new hardware and soft-
ware for the College of Engineering,
in advance of COE's four year replace-
ment cycle. This means that as new
and advanced computer equipment
becomes available, the MAF tries to
obtain samples. Almost all of this
equipment is obtained through grants,
loans or gifts.
The MAF concentrates its efforts in ar-
eas growing quickly in capability and
interest. It is currently concentrating
its efforts in the areas of engineering
animation, data visualization, and par-
allel/distributed computing. Faculty
and students (both graduate and un-
dergraduate) with a project or inter-
est in these areas can use the equip-
ment and consulting facilities at the
The MAF's Hardware
As you would expect from a lab spe-
cializing in modelling and visualiza-
tion, the hardware at the MAF is re-
markable. The centerpiece is the IBM
SP-2 supercomputer, with 16 parallel
computing nodes, each with a one
gigabyte hard disk and 128 megabytes
of RAM. This means, as the staff puts
it, that, "This machine has more RAM
than a big home machine has hard
drive space." The SP-2 generally runs
Fortran, Pascal or C programs, submit-
ted as batch jobs. It is not possible to
work interactively on the SP-2. The
hardware workhorses of the MAF are
Hewlett Packard workstations. There
are seven HP735/99Is. There are also
other larger HP's and several Silicon
Graphics machines.
Of particular interest is the Condor
system, which links several hundred
in CAE and across campus. A batch
job submitted to Condor is run on
whatever workstations are unused. If
a workstation becomes occupied dur-
ing the Condor job, Condor switches
the job to the next available worksta-
tion, without loss of CPU cycles. Be-
cause Condor runs jobs during off-
peak hours, it is possible to obtain the
use of years of CPU time in a single
The MAF's Software
The software available at the MAF is
some of the newest and most capable
available. The software used for ani-
mation is Wavefront and Vislab. These
packages, costing hundreds of
thousands of dollars are able to im-
port static models and motion data
from other modelling programs
and animate the models according
to the wishes of the user. This is
the same software used by Indus-
trial Light and Magic to produce
special effects for movies such as
Terminator II and Jurassic Park.
IVI  II U11MAUI, IUUU 1uFiienWDaum, demonstrates tne wavefront software
that can be used in engineering animation.
Data visualization software pack-
ages can import large data files
generated elsewhere, as on the SP-
2 supercomputer, and apply visual
forms to the data, making the
meaning of the data much more
apparent. Examples of this kind of
problem are finite element analy-
sis, such as the flow of air across
an airplane wing.

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