July 12, 2012
Encanto, the 133-teraflop SGI Altix ICE cluster that was the 3rd fastest supercomputer in the world in 2007, looks like it’s about to get repossessed. The New Mexico government, under the direction of governor Susana Martinez, is claiming that the non-profit New Mexico Computing Applications Center (NMCAC), which is hosting the machine, is unable to pay its bills. The Albuquerque Journal reported on the development in an article today.
The now ironically named Encanto, which is Spanish for “enchanted,” was supposed to pay for itself selling HPC cycles to users, while doubling as a resource for state schools. But that business model never seemed to pan out.
Encanto has been the victim of political infighting since 2008, when the New Mexico state legislature approved $11 million for its purchase. Then-Governor Bill Richardson wanted the system to assist state universities and national labs, simulate clean energy grid technology and help with state economic initiatives. After Martinez took office, Encanto was declared a “symbol of excess.” Since then no funding had been approved for NMCAC.
Martinez’ administration says NMCAC is unable to pay for its bills or required maintenance, and as a result, will take possession of Encanto. A letter sent to NMCAC CEO Tom Bowles claimed the center was in breach of contract and that all assets and equipment would be taken over by June 30. It stated that NMCAC had $1.25 million in past due bills to SGI and Intel, which runs the Rio Rancho facility that houses the machine.
Bowles told the Journal those claims were false, stating that the center is only behind $421,000 to SGI for maintenance and repairs. SGI ceased providing services in December. Since then, NMCAC arranged for another vendor, HPC Tools, to run the system. That company agreed to maintain Encanto in exchange for a portion of the user revenue.
As for an alleged debt to Intel for $826,800, Bowles explained those expenses were covered under an exchange agreement where the chip manufacturer gets working time on the system. Bill Davidson, an Intel spokesman confirmed the exchange agreement.
Regardless of the financial situation, Intel plans to demolish the Rio Rancho facility by September 30th, which means the system will need to find a new home. Bowles has been working with three state research universities to find a new location for Encanto, and may result in the system being split between campuses.
The current administration appears to have alternative plans for the system though. Darryl Ackley, state information technology secretary, mentioned that selling the supercomputer was a possibility. “We’re evaluating now whether to sell it or make it available for other uses,” he said. “It’s not a foregone conclusion yet.”
Full story at Albuquerque Journal
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