Cole Harvey works Thursday on Big Red 200 at Indiana University. (Rich Janzaruk / Herald-Times)
Cole Harvey works Thursday on Big Red 200 at Indiana University. (Rich Janzaruk / Herald-Times)
You may not care how fast Indiana University’s new supercomputer is, but what researchers do with it could change your life.

Big Red 200 is essentially a 30-foot-long box that contains a bunch of wires. It’s about as tall as Justin Smith, the starting forward for IU’s men’s basketball team.

The decorative panel covers are the only visible indication of how important the machine is. Etched into those panels are the names of all 331 different academic disciplines that will benefit from the supercomputer’s capabilities.

The machine is still being reassembled. It was made by Cray Inc. in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. It was tested there before being taken apart and shipped to Bloomington on two tractor-semitrailer trucks. Reassembly should be finished in about a week. Another round of testing will take place before it’s opened up for IU researchers, likely sometimes this spring.

Once that happens, Big Red 200 will generally run about 100 jobs concurrently.

“These are gargantuan computing tasks,” said Brad Wheeler, IU vice president for information technology and chief information officer, during a recent tour of the university’s data center.

Fortunately, Big Red 200 is up to the challenge. When IU announced in June that it was acquiring a new supercomputer, a news release boasted a top speed of 5.9 petaFLOPS.

For those not versed in the measurements of super computing speed, that’s almost 6 million times faster than an iPhone XS. Put another way, if everyone in the state of Indiana performed one calculation every second for 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year, it would take them 28 years to perform the same number of calculations Big Red 200 could do in just one second.

But now, it’s actually faster than that. Late-stage negotiations with Cray led to changes that resulted in nearly two more petaFLOPS of computing speed, Wheeler said. That’s about one-third faster than what was originally announced.

What that boils down to is research on everything from Alzheimer’s disease to climate change can move faster. Matthew Link, IU vice president for research technologies, used breast cancer detection as an example.
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