UNR introduces new computer cluster

The University of Nevada, Reno unveiled plans to develop a computing cluster, call Pronghorn that will boost research capacity and better support the latest research applications at the university.

The key component of UNR’s cluster is partnership with Switch, the global technology company and leader in the design and operation of advanced data centers. The company is developing a new center adjacent to the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center (TRIC) east of Sparks.

Steve Smith, UNR’s vice president and chief information officer, said the two parties had initiated discussions on a partnership for about a year. Switch and UNR had previous collaboration on another project, The Innevation Center University of Nevada, Reno, an incubator for entrepreneurs and startups for university students, faculty and staff.

Switch is providing more than $3.4 million in technology infrastructure support services for five years housed at Switch TAHOE RENO, The Citadel Campus.

The new cluster is expected to offer 30 times more computing power than the university’s existing system.

Smith said the partnership is a real coup for the growing university, freeing up space on campus and providing a secure backup system.

“One of the things that this partnership will really do is reduce time for our staff and reduce data center space on the UNR campus,” Smith said in a phone interview with NNBW. “It should also help reduce operating costs on the UNR campus.”

Additional funding is provided by UNR along with funding through the State of Nevada Knowledge Fund, facilitated by the Governor’s Office for Economic Development and awarded to the Nevada Center for Applied Research (NCAR), and a donation from university supporter and researcher Mick Hitchcock.

Dell EMC was selected as the vendor for the support hardware that will allow high-speed network communications and connectivity.

The cluster was named after the American antelope species which is the fastest mammal on the North American continent. It is expected to be available for beta-use in late fall 2017 and fully implemented by January.

Hardware is being acquired from Dell EMC where it will eventually be shipped to the Switch facility then go through validation procedures, beta-testing and trouble-shooting before it is ready for implementation.

Pronghorn is expected to advance the university’s fields of research and scholarship, from the natural and social sciences, to the technology, scientific, engineering and mathematics fields.

“It is a very secure network that will keep us well-connected with the rest of the world,” Smith said.

The system will undergo reviews every six months, among other things, to determine if additional hardware, storage and memory are required.

“We wanted to develop a system that would be sustainable and that could support growth.”

One of the advantages of the cluster is that is also provides the potential to collaborate on other projects including working with local municipalities, namely Reno and Sparks to develop “smart city” initiatives.

“Making Nevada the most connected state and driving economic development through technology and data analytics are critical priorities that Switch shares with the University of Nevada, Reno,” said Switch executive vice president for strategy Adam Kramer in a press release. “This collaborative project will cement the university’s commitment to strengthen its status as a top-level research university and its ability to partner with the private sector.”

Industry access to Pronghorn will be coordinated through NCAR, the applied research and development technology center that makes the facilities, equipment and talent of the university available to industry through customized, fee-for-service contracts. NCAR is also supported through the Knowledge Fund.


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