Sustain and enhance NCAR facilities

CISL operates two robust, capable facilities tailored to the needs of the broad atmospheric science and related communities. The flagship NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) provides advanced high-performance computing (HPC), data storage, and data analysis capabilities with a mission to maintain NCAR’s leadership position in geosciences computing capability and capacity. Earth system scientists need petascale computing, data analysis, and visualization resources combined with exascale data-management capabilities to support greater model resolution, increased model complexity, better statistics, more predictive power, and longer simulation times. The Mesa Lab Computing Facility (MLCF) provides disaster recovery for important observational data sets, production data services, and web presence. It also houses computing and storage that meet lab-level software, model development, and data-storage needs. Finally, CISL maintains and operates a multi-purpose visualization lab space that enhances education and outreach efforts, hosts important stakeholder discussions, and has visualization capabilities at resolutions that are not possible in another space within UCAR.

NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center

The NWSC entered its sixth year of operation in FY2018 witnessing the transition from the first HPC system to the second. The year’s primary focus at NWSC was installation and acceptance testing for the new Campaign Storage archive and the new Casper data analysis and visualization cluster.

Staff at the NWSC – in partnership with vendors and the CISL High-End Services Section – also shifted to providing a greater percentage of hardware support in-house. This effort increases responsiveness for keeping systems in production and saved more than $900,000 on maintenance contracts.

Electricians working in safety suits
Electricians re-energize a medium-voltage switch after completing repairs following the failure of one of five switches at the NWSC. Due to the voltages and the potential energies involved, two-person teams and electrical safety suits are required during any electrical switching activity.

The need for quick response was illustrated dramatically on December 30, 2017, when one of five 24,900-volt switches suffered a catastrophic failure on a clear, calm day. These switches are critical components of the electrical distribution system and, at the NWSC size and capacity, are custom-manufactured for a specific building configuration. Fortunately, the facility was designed with an additional switch intended for future growth requirements. Without a spare switch already on site, the facility could have encountered an outage measured in months rather than hours. Noteworthy and efficient teamwork by NWSC staff, the electrical subcontractor, manufacturer, and engineering teams brought the facility back online in 18 hours over the New Year’s holiday.

Mesa Lab Computing Facility

Refurbishment of the MLCF has been a foundational element of NCAR’s overall computing strategy for a number of years. A refurbished facility will allow for the decommissioning of less capable, energy-inefficient spaces at the Foothills and Center Green campuses. Additionally, with the advent of virtualization technologies, a separate facility on independent fiber paths with different utility providers becomes a strategic asset. Two modest facilities linked appropriately through high-availability configurations and a mixture of cloud backup makes production data services more robust and resilient at an affordable price point. Design of the MLCF refurbishment was completed in FY2017. CISL completed an RFP for the construction effort in FY2018 and sent it to NSF for approval in the spring.

VisLab Facility

The NCAR Visualization Laboratory (VisLab) located at the Mesa Lab was designed and built in 2000 and upgraded in 2009. Since the last upgrade, modern A/V equipment has taken another evolutionary leap with the advent of 4K resolution and other key technologies. CISL began an RFP process in FY2018 to refresh VisLab technology to support the display of modern climate and weather models at full data resolution and to enable viewing of small-scale processes in important areas like turbulence with more clarity and detail than ever before. CISL selected a vendor, Mechdyne Corporation, to install a 4x3-flat-panel-based video wall with 12 times (7680x3240) the current display resolution. Enhancements to the video switcher, audio and control systems, and other A/V components will keep the facility current with modern technology, extend CISL’s education and outreach capabilities, and provide an engaging platform for presenting NCAR science.

VisLab video wall mockup
The upgraded VisLab will include a high-resolution video wall as illustrated in this mockup. Multiple tiled 4K video screens will greatly enhance visualization capabilities without distracting noise that is present with the current projection system.