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STAR-Spangled Industry Successes

Published on November 10, 2017 by Aaron Dubrow

The STAR program promotes mutually beneficial exchange of ideas and information between industry and academia in advanced computing technologies, while fostering innovation and supporting economic development in the state of Texas and across the nation.

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is well-known for helping university scientists and engineers solve the toughest computational problems.

What is less known is that, through the Science & Technology Affiliates for Research (STAR) program, TACC also serves as a research accelerator and partner for more than two dozen companies, ranging from Fortune 100 corporations to start-ups, helping them test new hardware, improve their software, and design better data-centers to support their production needs.

The genesis of the program can be traced to the 2004 Council on Competitiveness Study of U.S. Industrial HPC Users.

"At that time, industries either knew advanced computing was important and were heavily dependent on it, like oil & gas and automobile manufacturing, or they had a vague idea of what it was but didn't think it was for them," said Melyssa Fratkin, TACC's Industrial Programs Director. "The Council study suggested that collaborations with academia, while challenging, could also be very rewarding for a range of fields."

In May 2007, TACC received permission from The University of Texas at Austin to begin an Industrial Affiliates program. About that time, Ranger, TACC's first world-class supercomputer, was coming online, offering more computing capacity than any system the center had previously deployed.

"Here we had a way to not only share this powerful machine we were building, but to provide access to hands-on help for those who didn't know how they could address their problems with HPC," Fratkin said.

STAR began with three members — Chevron, Aramco and Dell — and has grown over the past decade to include 25 members from a range of fields. The program has expanded from its energy sector roots to encompass firms in engineering, computing, and aerospace.

Members are invited to participate in tailored training sessions and workshops, and have the opportunity to engage in sponsored research activities, where they can utilize TACC's advanced computing, visualization and data analysis systems for research beyond the capabilities of their in-house systems. Through visits, conference calls, and collaboration, they also benefit from TACC expertise in porting and tuning codes for large-scale parallel processing.

Founded in 2007 — 10 years ago — the Science & Technology Affiliates for Research (STAR) program serves as a research accelerator and partner for more than two dozen companies.

The program is not just for skilled supercomputing practitioners. Individuals and organizations who are less experienced in advanced computing can develop the knowledge and skills required for active, constructive participation.

"The program offers members knowledge-sharing in terms of hardware, software, tools and techniques, visualization, and storage, and a chance to meet with likeminded individuals from across the industry spectrum to share lessons learned and cautionary tales," Fratkin said. "It also opens a pipeline for the companies to have access to students that are trained in advanced computing, programming and visualization."

Companies have different reasons for being members of the STAR program. For BP, consulting with TACC experts helped make their Center for High-Performance Computing — which opened in 2013 and houses the world's largest supercomputer for commercial research — more energy efficient.

"Our team has benefitted greatly from our participation in the STAR Program," said Keith Grey, Director, High Performance Computing at BP. "We have been able to collaborate with the experts at TACC to improve our systems management processes, understand the value and complexities of new computing architectures, and identify and train the people we will need to deliver Research Computing for BP."

Over the years, the program has led to a number of industry accomplishments, from the first billion cell oil reservoir simulation in Aramco's history to the development by Raytheon of novel techniques that significantly improved high-resolution severe weather simulations around O'Hare International Airport.

[See the Top 10 (+1) accomplishments of the STAR Program over its history.]

The City of Austin has come to recognize the value of TACC and the STAR program for recruiting companies to the city. In the case of Firefly Aerospace, a private firm that was deciding whether to locate their headquarters in Silicon Valley or Texas, access to the computing capabilities and expertise at TACC tipped the scale.

TACC offers more than just cloud computing cycles. We have the expertise and resources to provide a competitive advantage to both established and startup companies.
Melyssa Fratkin, TACC's Industrial Programs Director

"Firefly's research on Stampede is helping them get closer to launch more quickly, with more accurate designs," said Melyssa Fratkin, TACC's industrial programs director. "It's very rewarding for TACC to be able to support small companies that are poised to do great things."

"That's one of the reasons Firefly chose Austin," said Firefly aerospace engineer Alex Weldon. "Having TACC in our backyard is great. The more we can keep things local, the better."

Along the way, STAR members have become part of the extended TACC community, helping the center's mission of developing a computationally-literate high performance computing workforce.

STAR members have supported the development of TACC's Scientific Computing Curriculum, (now offered at universities and centers nationwide); sponsored teams for the Student Cluster Challenge (three-time winners of the annual Supercomputing Conference competition); and funded STAR Scholars, an internship program that provides financial support for undergraduates and graduate student working on computational research projects during the academic year.

In the future, Fratkin hopes to recruit more small business to STAR, for whom TACC can act as an incubator.

"TACC offers more than just cloud computing cycles," she said. "We have the expertise and resources to provide a competitive advantage to both established and startup companies."

By supporting the companies that provide energy and design future technologies, TACC is helping to power discoveries that change the world.

"Our mission at TACC is to provide the technologies, tools, and expertise that help make the world a better place," said John West, TACC Director of Strategic Initiatives. "The STAR program provides a unique opportunity to work with industry to address critical needs in energy, health, and engineering, while helping to security the economic competitiveness of our nation."


Story Highlights

TACC's Science & Technology Affiliates for Research (STAR) program began in 2007 with three partners — Chevron, Aramco and Dell.

Over the past decade, it has grown to 25 partners from a wide range of industries, including engineering, computing, and aerospace.

Members participate in tailored training sessions and workshops and engage in sponsored research activities.

Through visits, conference calls, and collaborations, they also benefit from TACC expertise in porting and tuning codes for large-scale parallel processing.


Contact

Faith Singer-Villalobos

Communications Manager
faith@tacc.utexas.edu | 512-232-5771

Aaron Dubrow

Science And Technology Writer
aarondubrow@tacc.utexas.edu

Jorge Salazar

Technical Writer/Editor
jorge@tacc.utexas.edu | 512-475-9411