NIH's Supercomputer Gets An Upgrade

Timofeev Vladimir/

NIH is using the CSRA's Biowulf cluster to study potential treatments for cancer, diabetes and other diseases.

The National Institutes of Health is expanding its supercomputing setup so it can delve into vast amounts of data about cancer, diabetes, mental health and other medical fields.

CSRA has installed a second part of its Biowulf system at the NIH's Center for Information Technology, the company announced Wednesday.  That high-performance computing system processes large amounts of computations related to genomics and is designed to be used in biomedical research. 

The upgrade essentially doubles the supercomputing capacity the NIH had with the last iteration of Biowulf, Sharon Hays, director of CSRA's High-Performance Computing Center of Excellence, explained to Nextgov. That means it can perform about 1.2 thousand trillion operations per second, she said.

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CSRA is the prime on a multi-year contract to provide the hardware and some support for Biowulf.  NIH is exploring a broad set of uses in biomedical and genomic research, Hays said, and the system's purchase isn't tied to any one specific research question. 

For instance, scientists have experimented with high-performance computing in analyzing bacteria genomics, simulating the spread of diseases, and examining human MRIs, according to the company. 

The upgrade also signals scientists' relatively new interest in applying supercomputing technology to biomedical research, Hays explained. High-performance computing has long been used to analyze weather, climate patterns and aerospace phenomena. 

The company also has a $51 million contract with the Environmental Protection Agency for high-performance computing, and supports similar systems at NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Pentagon and the Centers for Disease Control.