Since the 1960s, the general-purpose processor (also known as the central processing unit or CPU) has served as the brains in computing instruments. Recent trends, however, have exposed the CPU as a “jack of all (computing) trades, master of none,” thus giving rise to heterogeneous computing instruments with multiple types of brains, e.g., CPUs and graphics processing units (GPUs).
Building on our team’s expertise in this area, we acquired a versatile heterogeneous supercomputing instrument, in which each compute node consists of CPUs and GPUs. This transformative instrument has empowered faculty, students, and staff across disciplines to tackle problems previously viewed as intractable or that required heroic efforts and significant domain-specific expertise to solve. For example, in 2007, though conventional wisdom believed that finding missing genes in 699 microbial genomes was computationally infeasible, our team of 20+ interdisciplinary researchers from 8 institutions around the world, developed software cybertool instruments to integrate a set of distributed supercomputers, totaling 12,000+ CPUs, to complete the task in ten weeks. The HokieSpeed instrument, coupled with our existing cybertool instruments, can complete this task in a day while involving only two researchers rather than 20+.
Furthermore, the instrument catalyzed new approaches for conducting research via the synergistic amalgamation of heterogeneous supercomputing and our cyber-enabled tools that enhance ease of use.