July 6, 2007

Cornell Theory Center is now Cornell Center for Advanced Computing

The 22-year-old Cornell Theory Center has been reorganized and renamed in a move designed to make its high-performance computing resources more efficient and effective for the university's researchers and to take advantage of growing opportunities for research funding.

The new incarnation, the Cornell University Center for Advanced Computing (CAC), will report directly to the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. Previously, the Theory Center was part of the Faculty of Computing and Information Science. David Lifka, who has been the center's director of high-performance and innovative computing, has been named director.

"I am really excited about the future of the center," Lifka said. Its new direction, he said, will include a "refocusing" of the center's core mission of providing advanced research computing resources and consulting services to the faculty, with the goal of reaching out to more campus researchers. "One metric of success is how many researchers we serve on campus," Lifka said. "The center will be successful to the extent that we enable the success of the faculty."

Much of the research, he added, will still be in areas that have special needs for high-performance computing. "Cornell faculty and the center have unique strengths in database, networking and security technologies that will enable us to make vital contributions to the development of next-generation cyberinfrastructure," he said. (Cyberinfrastructure has become a catch-all term for all the computers, data storage facilities, data communications networks and human resources needed to support modern research, particularly in disciplines that must deal with huge collections of data, such as raw census data, databases of DNA sequences or the results of continuing sky scans by the Arecibo telescope.)

One attraction for faculty will be that some of CAC's basic services will be free, according to Charles Fay, vice provost for research administration. While the new center will be somewhat smaller, he said, it also will receive a larger funding allocation from the Office of the Provost in order to make it a "core resource" for researchers. "Faculty can walk in the door and use a range of services from consulting to data storage to computing time, and some of those services will be provided free," he explained. Above a certain baseline, yet to be determined, there will still be user fees, he added. Where the lines are drawn and how resources are apportioned will be determined by a faculty advisory committee chaired by the vice provost for research. At the same time, "A major portion of the NSF [National Science Foundation] budget is going to initiatives in high-performance computing and cyberinfrastructure," Fay said. "This reorganization and name change is part of taking advantage of this trend."

Positioning Cornell to take advantage of such funding was one of the recent recommendations of an ad hoc cyberinfrastructure task force chaired by Tony Ingraffea, the Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering, who has served as interim director of the Theory Center for the past two years. Ingraffea will become a member of the CAC faculty advisory committee.

"I really want to thank Tony Ingraffea for his extraordinary leadership and for helping develop a vision for Cornell's position at the national level in cyberinfrastructure and high-performance computing," said Stephen Kresovich, interim vice provost for research. "I also want to thank all of the Theory Center faculty and staff for excellent work during the last 18 months as funding streams changed and the Theory Center began its evolution into the Center for Advanced Computing."

The Theory Center was established in 1985 under the direction of Nobel laureate and supercomputing visionary Kenneth Wilson, former Cornell professor of physics, as one of four NSF-funded national supercomputing centers intended to make high-performance computing -- then available only to industry and government -- accessible to academic researchers. Originally it was called the Cornell Center for Theory and Simulation in Science and Engineering, reflecting the emergence of computer simulation as a major research tool.

Lifka has a Ph.D. in computer science from the Illinois Institute of Technology and 19 years of experience in high-performance computing at Cornell and Argonne National Laboratory. At the Theory Center he led systems and consulting, and developed and commercially licensed scheduling technologies. As an adjunct associate professor of computing and information science, he taught high-performance computing courses in the Computing and Information Science curriculum.

In addition to Lifka, three assistant directors of the new center have been named: Resa Alvord, assistant director for systems; Susan Mehringer, assistant director for consulting; and Paul Redfern, assistant director for strategic partnerships.

The CAC faculty advisory committee, composed of major users of high-performance computing, is currently chaired by Kresovich. In addition to Ingraffea, members are John Abowd, director of the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research; Carlos Bustamante, assistant professor of biological statistics and computational biology; Lawrence Gibbons, associate professor of physics; Donald Greenberg, director of the Program of Computer Graphics; Martha Haynes, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy; Daniel Huttenlocher, the John P. and Rilla Neafsey Professor of Computing, Information Science and Business; and Charles Van Loan, the Joseph C. Ford Professor of Engineering.