Courtesy University of Tulsa

Tandy shutdown inconvenience

Tulsa’s supercomputing center closed its doors, leaving many students and teachers searching for an alternative.

Over winter break, many TU students and faculty received an email informing them that the Tandy Supercomputing Center (TSC) would soon be shutting down. TSC operated the Tandy, a 1600-core supercomputer available for private, commercial and academic use.

TSC was an initiative started in 2013 by the Oklahoma Innovation Initiative (OII) and a number of other institutions, including OU-Tulsa, OSU-Tulsa, TCC and TU, among others. It was funded partially through the A.R. and Marylouise Tandy Foundation as well as the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The physical system itself, Tandy, is housed in city hall. It has 1600 cores, 12.8TB of RAM and is running CentOS linux. It takes up about four racks, each about the size of a refrigerator. What will happen to the physical computer itself is still up in the air, although its likely at least some of the infrastructure will go to the city.

The email suggested alternative computing centers at OU and OSU and offered to help any users with transitions. “Financial reasons” were stated as the cause for the shutdown.

TSC Director George Louthan expounded on the reasoning for TSC’s shutdown. “I don’t think it’s a secret at all that higher-ed in Oklahoma is not in a very good place right now funding-wise.” He continued, “A major source of our funding has always been contributions from the member institutions … from TU, the two campuses of Oklahoma State in Tulsa and the OU campus in Tulsa. The kind of money that that historically has been doesn’t exist anymore.”

Non-university funding sources have taken a hit due to the energy downturn affecting this part of the state. Louthan said operating a supercomputer like the Tandy costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

“Computational science and engineering is a third, co-equal, approach to doing science.” When asked about the role of supercomputers, Louthan said, “There’s questions for which we can get the answer best by theory, some by experimentation and some by computation.”

“At the end of the day it’s easier to help people when you’re three miles away than it is when you’re a hundred miles away or a thousand miles away,” Louthan said.

Louthan also expressed that one of the consequences of TSC’s shutdown will be that they can no longer work to bring supercomputing to new areas of science. Scientists “can ask bigger, more exciting questions if we can get them comfortable using bigger tools.” he said.

Louthan said that he wanted people to know that “we have a great supercomputing community in Oklahoma … even though we’re going away there’s still help and tools out there for people. We hope they’ll continue to think big about the kind of science that advanced computing can help them do and reach out to the resources that are available.”

All TU students and faculty are able to use OU’s supercomputer Schooner and OSU’s supercomputer Cowboy for their academic research for free.

Editorial note:
I have personally used the Tandy off and on since my sophomore year. One summer I completed a TURC project that heavily used the Tandy, and my first scientific publication was based on the work I did on the Tandy. TSC has been one the most valuable tools in my undergraduate education, and I owe them an enormous debt. I’d specifically like to thank George Louthan and Ryan Quinn for their immense help.

Post Author: Adam Lux