Tulsa’s community supercomputer managed by TU alumnus

It’s the most powerful community supercomputer in the state operating at a speed of 250 to 300 times faster than today’s desktop machines. The Tandy Supercomputing Center (TSC) at Tulsa’s Oklahoma Innovation Institute (OII) accomplishes complicated and daunting tasks in a matter of hours that would normally take weeks. The supercomputer completes three to four projects a day for members of the private, commercial and academic sectors such as TU’s College of Engineering and Natural Sciences. Other partners include Northeastern State University, Oklahoma State University, Oral Roberts University, Tulsa Community College and the University of Oklahoma.

It’s unusual to have a multi-institutional center, but that’s what makes us different,” said George Louthan (BS ’09, MS ’11), director of TSC. “We also have a good relationship with other supercomputing centers in the state.”

community supercomputer
Alumnus George Louthan

Managed by three of OII’s 12 employees, the supercomputer was established in 2013 through the citywide planning effort Step Up Tulsa. The Tulsa Community Foundation facilitated the campaign, which focused on creating and improving quality-of-life initiatives.

“We thought Tulsa could do a better job of accessing economic tools, sharing community resources and converting research to high-impact jobs,” Louthan said.

The city was searching for a way to best leverage advanced computing resources that could benefit Tulsa residents. “It became clear that OII and the need for more computing power were a very good match,” he said.

The steady, low hum of more than 100 servers greets the computer scientists and technicians cleared to visit the supercomputer’s chambers in City Hall. Louthan said TSC has proven its worth time and time again, supporting dozens of projects at TU, in Tulsa and around the state.

“In just the physics department alone, we’ve worked on a certain project for two-and-a-half years to provide the equivalent of 100 to 200 personal computers in constant use for that whole time,” he said.

TSC assists TU Professor of Physics Sanwu Wang and his Quantum Mechanical Computations team with molecular dynamic research.

“The Tandy Supercomputer has made it possible for my group to perform large-scale parallel quantum-mechanical calculations and simulations for a variety of research projects in physics, chemistry, materials science and nanotechnology,” Wang said. “The computations have provided fundamental understanding of catalytic reactions involving biofuels, conductivity of polymer electrolytes, phase transitions of nanosized white graphite and graphene as well as electronic and electromechanical properties of lead-free piezoelectric materials and relaxor ferroelectrics.”

Physicists, biologists and other scientists who seek the supercomputer’s power are taught how to effectively use its “tool chest of research skills” for study and development in the Tulsa community. Louthan said the center is a low-cost option for small-to-medium-sized companies and universities who otherwise cannot afford to conduct maximum computing tasks. Some services also are offered free to startups and entrepreneurs.

“It’s an unbroken chain of transferring research to technology and helping startups become enterprise,” Louthan said. “No day is ever the same as the next, and I get to support more research than most people ever get the chance to work on.”

But TSC has set a goal to change and provide more research opportunities for Tulsa entities. The center is ideal for industry engagement, offering services to private sector users that drive economic development. Users interested in technology transfer, such as the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa, sought TSC’s help in developing a proof of concept for signal analysis of EKG readings with real-time results. OSU hopes to commercialize the product.

“The supercomputing center lends itself to not only impacting Tulsa economically but also to improving the health of all Tulsans and Oklahomans,” Louthan said. “We ask clients to tell us what they’re pursuing and what they would like to do that they can’t. It’s fun to learn what our users are doing.”

A National Merit Scholar finalist, Louthan studied computer science at TU and conducted research at the university’s Institute for Information Security. In addition to his TSC leadership, he is OII director of information technology and a member of the OneOklahoma Cyber Infrastructure Initiative, a statewide group of universities and organizations that manage supercomputing systems.

“It’s a really great community that we’re a part of,” he said. “We make sure researchers are plugged into Oklahoma’s supercomputers.”

TSC’s purpose and mission are deeply rooted in Tulsa’s economic ambitions and the interests of its residents. Louthan’s TU background serves him well as he and OII strive to provide research tools that give Tulsa a competitive edge in computing while improving Oklahomans’ quality of life.

“We’re on track to have over 100 new individual users this year, including faculty members, research students and private companies,” Louthan said. “We’ve created a new supercomputer model by taking pieces from what we think others do very well and developing a shared system that benefits the entire community.”

For more information about TSC, please contact Louthan at george.louthan@oklahomainnovationinstitute.org.