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NICS was established in 2007 with the benefit of a $65M award from NSF. At that time, NICS stood up the Kraken system, the first academic computer to break the petaflop barrier. This enabled researchers in numerous scientific arenas, from climate to materials science to astrophysics, to achieve breakthroughs not yet possible on other resources. Kraken, a Cray XT5 boasting a peak performance of 1.17 petaflops, 112,896 compute cores, 147 TB of compute memory, 3.3 PB of raw parallel file system disk storage space, and 9,408 compute nodes, climbed as high as #3 on the Top 500 List.

Since that time, NICS has solidified its role as an academic center at the forefront of computational sciences where it has won many awards for its excellence in computing, leadership, and outstanding research. In addition, the center has established a national reputation for computational science and for user facility operations. Since 2008, approximately $130M in funding has been awarded to NICS through the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Defense (DoD), various industry partners, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

NICS provides a mechanism to facilitate computational science collaborations between UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Countless UT students and faculty have been trained and supported in their computational needs for their research projects using HPC resources at ORNL, UT, or with other national computational resources.

Furthermore, as a partner in the NSF’s Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) project, NICS is at the forefront of computational science and cyberinfrastucture initiatives. XSEDE supports the most advanced, powerful, and robust collection of integrated digital resources and services in the world. In addition, NICS works closely with the academic community and industry partners to streamline new developments for computing architectures and software technologies.

This ascent of UTK and NICS coincided with the emergence of ORNL as the best location for supercomputing and computational science on the planet. Both ORNL and UT have enjoyed this symbiotic relationship, and collaborations with operations, research, and workforce development have been invaluable to both organizations. For example, numerous key personnel at ORNL with responsibility for research, supercomputing, or laboratory operations have had experience with NICS. Similarly, UT’s Director for Research Computing is an alumnus of NICS. Students serving as interns, research assistants, or part-time staff at NICS have enjoyed incredible opportunities to learn about systems administration and operations, user support, computational science, and data analytics. Many of these students have become staff for NICS, ORNL, or UT, with even more supporting the panoply of local industry desperate for technically savvy staff.

NICS’ unique strengths and focus areas include the following:

  • Training researchers and students in Computational and Data Science and Engineering methodologies and approaches to lower the barrier for entry, increase utilization and impact of approaches to research, and to increase competitiveness for research and computing proposals.
  • Revolutionizing research teams by applied consultation and collaboration services for UT/ORNL research groups in various aspects of Computational and Data Science and Engineering to increase the utilization and impact of computational capabilities in research. NICS has extensive strength in chemistry, computational fluid dynamics, machine/deep learning, material science, physics, and software engineering.
  • Transforming research and user facility capabilities via consultation and collaboration services for UT/ORNL research groups in various aspects of system operations. NICS has strengths in storage, infrastructure, system administration, networking, and security.
  • Spearheading research and development efforts to invent and demonstrate state of the art practices for deploying and maintaining computational resources using operational research methodologies.
  • Supporting the national cyberinfrastructure via the XSEDE virtual organization. NICS engages with researchers nationwide, provides collaborative support services, and provides support for enterprise services, compute, storage, and networking infrastructure for the project. Furthermore, NICS personnel lead the Operations component of the XSEDE project.
  • Connecting UT/ORNL researchers, educators, and external partners with needed computational resources from UT, ORNL, or national cyberinfrastructure via consultation, collaboration, training, and education.