ASU’s Sol is among the best-performing supercomputers globally

July 11, 2023

Brighter than NYU’s Langone Health’s UltraViolet and featuring more firepower than Harvard University’s Cannon, Arizona State University’s Sol supercomputer has been listed among the best-performing supercomputers globally.

The Top500, an international benchmarking organization, ranked Sol above Harvard, NYU and Johns Hopkins. Additionally, IO500, another benchmarking organization, listed Sol among the best 10-node research and research supercomputers in the world, along with Cambridge University, Stanford University, and Georgia Tech. Both rankings are the highest ever for the university and the first time Sol has been ranked since its launch last year.
Close up shot of the Sol supercomputer.
The Sol supercomputer at the Iron Mountain Data Center. Photo by Andy DeLisle
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These rankings underscore the support and empowerment Sol provides to ASU researchers, says Sally C. Morton, executive vice president of ASU Knowledge Enterprise. This stands as a testament to ASU’s unwavering commitment to advance knowledge and foster innovative research. Serving as the cornerstone of infrastructure, Sol propels us into a future where new frontiers of discovery and transformative solutions are flourishing.

Since 1993, the biannual Top500 has listed the most powerful computer systems based on their speed, quantified by the number of floating point operations a computer can process per second, or flop. G, which can process 2.7 petaflops, or 2.7 quadrillion flops, ranks among academic institutions, clocking faster times than Hercules of Mississippi State University, Greene of New York University and Agate of the University of Minnesota.

Sol is nearly 2,000 times faster or more capable than a modern laptop, and in terms of data storage, one might say about 4,000 times, says Douglas Jennewein, senior director of ASU Research Computing.

While standard computers use a single central processing unit (CPU) to process tasks, supercomputers contain many CPUs. This allows supercomputers to draw on the combined processing power of many CPUs clustered together as nodes to tackle large-scale complex problems beyond the reach of a typical machine. Sol has 18,000 CPU cores spanning 178 nodes.

To achieve this level of processing and computing power, ASU drew on its close partnership with Dell Technologies. As Dell Technologies’ center of excellence for high-performance computing and artificial intelligence, ASU partnered with the computer and software giant to design and manufacture the new supercomputer.

Striving to find answers to the world’s toughest questions requires an incredible amount of computing performance. ASU’s Sol supercomputer is designed to do just that, powered by Dell PowerEdge servers and HPC Validated Design Solutions, says Dave Lincoln, vice president of information systems, solutions and portfolio management at Dell Technologies. Based on the Dell HPC and AI Center of Excellence with ASU, Sol is the latest in a series of powerful, accelerated systems that can help speed discovery with AI modeling for a broad range of areas from protein folding to weather forecasts.

Since its inception last year, Sol and other Research Computing resources have supported the research projects of approximately 20 percent of leading researchers at ten colleges, including the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Health Solutions and the WP Carey School of Business.

There seem to be a large number of ways that computer science can help with research. It’s really expanded in exciting ways recently, and we’re just trying to fill that need, says Gil Speyer, director of the Computational Research Accelerator.

Through ASU’s Computational Research Accelerator, Speyer works with researchers across ASU to identify opportunities where high-performance computing and software solutions can support and optimize projects.

Supporting a number of disciplines, Sols’ capabilities have been used in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning to represent large-scale climate models; in the School of Earth and Space Exploration to determine the amount of hydrated material within Martian rocks and soils; and in the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence to develop deep learning models to improve PET scans for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Jennewein, Research Computing resources enabled more than $170 million in research and grants last year. With Sol’s new ranking, that number is set to grow.

Sol is providing a foundation for our researchers to do great things on a much larger scale, says Sean Dudley, associate vice president and chief research information officer at Knowledge Enterprise. In particular, this supercomputer is largely designed to support both the use and development of artificial intelligence. I appreciate the opportunity to provide this amazing new resource to our research community and am excited about the work this new system will support.

Due to the growing popularity and utility of artificial intelligence (AI) platforms, Sol was purpose-built to support a larger workload of AI programs. This advance provides the university with the tools it needs to conduct research on a larger and more competitive scale, particularly as the university expands its efforts in health care.

From imaging data analysis to genetic research to predictive health models and drug discovery, advanced computer systems will play a crucial role in supporting ASU’s new medical school, Jennewein says.

Sol also expands the university’s ability to not only support but connect researchers across disciplines, including engineering, business, health sciences, and more. By being competitive on a global scale, it raises the caliber of research itself.

The effect of investing in a tool like this on our campus is that a community of practice emerges, Speyer says. It seems to bring people together and network them so that they become, as a community, more research competitive.

ASU researchers interested in exploring how Sol can advance their research can request access through Research Computing.

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