Sustain and enhance NCAR facilities

The NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) continued to provide safe, reliable, well-maintained, and energy-efficient infrastructure in FY2019 while delivering meticulous system monitoring, system administration, computing system upgrades, and colocation services to the Computational and Information Systems Laboratory. CISL also made significant upgrades to the VisLab, which is located in the Mesa Lab building in Boulder. The NWSC mission, VisLab upgrade, and other activities continue to reinforce CISL’s position as a leading provider of scientific computing resources. 

NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center

A number of tasks were performed in FY2019 to enhance NWSC system performance. The medium-voltage switch that failed in December 2017 was replaced early in 2019. As part of that project, several enhancements were completed to improve system maintainability and information gathering. Due to equipment redundancy, the failure did not affect long-term operations. Replacing the switch returned the NWSC to a redundant configuration in the medium-voltage switchgear, reducing the risk of a single-point failure.

Several additional major equipment upgrades, enhancements, and preventive maintenance activities were completed, as well. Highlights include:

  • Chiller maintenance and eddy testing

  • Replacement of cooling tower media and addition of exterior screens to extend media life

  • Switchgear enhancements and upgrades to provide better integration and system monitoring capability

  • Physical security system hardware and software upgrades

CISL’s Boulder and Cheyenne teams installed and are maintaining the new data analysis, visualization, and machine-learning system named Casper. The installation of cabinets, nodes, and cabling required a great team effort to provide new computing capabilities to the science community. Also in FY2019, NWSC personnel prepared the decommissioned Yellowstone supercomputer for removal from the facility. The infrastructure for that system has largely been removed in a process to be completed in FY2020. 

VisLab upgrade

This CISL VisLab was refurbished in 2019 to replace and upgrade several aging, analog audiovisual technologies and to better serve the organization’s collaboration, meeting, and outreach needs. The VisLab is used as a venue for general meetings, classroom instruction, webinars, visualization demos, media interviews, research, and collaborative meetings. Typically supporting 2,000 to 3,000 users and visitors per year, it is a high-profile space frequently used by organizations across NCAR and UCAR to host VIP visitors and to help showcase and communicate NCAR science with engaging, high-resolution visualizations. 

VisLab
The completed VisLab upgrade with the large-format, high-resolution, 7680x3240-screen format. The image on the screen is a visualization of hurricane Odile over the Baja California peninsula.

The VisLab’s most recent previous upgrade was in 2009, so many of the key audiovisual components were out of warranty and no longer under maintenance contracts. The infrastructure was unable to support modern, ultra-high-definition digital video output. The ceiling-mounted front projection technology only supported HD display resolution, so presenting modern climate and weather models at full data resolution was impossible before the upgrade.

The Mechdyne Corporation was chosen in an RFP process and completed the installation in the spring of 2019. Improvements included:

  • Replacement of the front projection system with a 4x3 tiled video display wall with 55” LCD monitors (quieter and brighter)

  • Larger (16’x7’) physical display area

  • 7680x3240 screen resolution that supports the display of most modern data sets at full data resolution, a 12x increase over the former display resolution

  • Digital switcher upgrade (16x16 HDMI)

  • Addition of ceiling speakers and mics

  • New control system for simpler operation

  • Windowing system for collaborative environments with multiple simultaneous display sources

Additionally, the servers, audio equipment, and image-rendering systems were relocated to the Mesa Lab Data Center to take advantage of the environmentally controlled, secure facility. Relocating the equipment to that adjacent space also reduced the amount of noise-generating equipment in the VisLab itself. The refurbishment project culminated with open house events for NCAR and UCAR management, stakeholders, and staff. Presentations included an overview of the new facility and demonstrations of its new high-resolution capabilities to introduce users to the new features and to encourage use of the systems.

This project was supported by NSF Core funds.