Supercomputer use free for 2 months

2010-10-26T00:00:00Z 2010-10-26T16:54:58Z Supercomputer use free for 2 monthsJAN FALSTAD Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
October 26, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Calling the Big Sky supercomputer in Butte one of the “better-kept secrets” in Montana, the head of the company is traveling the state offering the power of high-speed supercomputing to small- and medium-sized businesses.

And the service is free until at least the end of 2010.

“If you do not compute, you do not compete. That’s what makes people thrive in this global economy, the knowledge economy,” said Earl Dodd, president and chief executive of the Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Center.

The Montana nonprofit corporation was founded in late 2008 with the purpose of bringing the High Performance Computing Cloud to Montana and to bring people, like Dodd who left the state to pursue advanced knowledge, back home. The supercomputer was running by July 2009, and primarily serves large companies, universities, American Indian businesses and government agencies. RMSC in Butte employs 4.5 full-time employees, including contractors, and has helped other Montana companies using the supercomputer retain or hire more than two dozen additional workers.

But now the shift is toward smaller companies.

“They are the backbone of the community. They are the backbone of the economy,” Dodd said.

The Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Center was started largely with a $2 million, two-year, state budget appropriation, with some private funding and two local government loans in Butte-Silver Bow County. The supercomputer is basically owned by the taxpayers, and Gov. Brian Schweitzer has urged the company to focus on smaller businesses.

“We are going into a tough legislative session, so we’ll do anything we can do to help keep businesses strong, communities strong and to help keep the brain drain from happening,” Dodd said.

Even if funding is cut next session, Dodd said the supercomputing center has enough paying clients to survive. The public-private company also is seeking grants and federal appropriations. The business plan calls for economic self-sufficiency in five years, which Dodd said is achievable.

Dodd hails from Alzada in Eastern Montana; he was a a ranch kid in a town of a dozen residents. He attended Montana Tech, worked in mining and later specialized in supercomputing.

After working for a dozen years in Houston helping IBM develop supercomputing, Dodd decided to bring his knowledge home to help Montana, a state lost in what he calls the “Great North American Supercomputing Desert.”

The clients are varied. The Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Center is running data around-the-clock for Precision Wind’s wind farm near Glacier National Park. By analyzing weather forecasts, wind loads and other factors, the operator can get the best performance out of the turbines.

The company also analyzes carbon sequestration data for the Fort Peck Landowners Association, so it can sell carbon trade offsets.

And the center recently signed a partnership with Northrop Grumman Corp., on the MORE Power, or Maximizing and Optimizing Renewable Energy, initiative. With help from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, MORE Power has created a map of Montana to help locate most efficient and profitable sites for wind farms.

“This is technology we hope to sell to other states and Canadian provinces,” Dodd said.

The Big Sky supercomputer runs up power bills of from $3,500 to $6,000 a month.

The company also is trying to help train more young people in science, math and computers. Relative to other countries, Dodd said, the United States is in a “crisis” situation, lacking enough young workers with technical and scientific knowledge.

Dodd is touring a half-dozen Montana cities this week and next to spread the word about the free supercomputing offer. While his employees are expert in supercomputing, clients need to come prepared with their data and goals defined.

“You’ve hit the wall in computing or you’re trying to shift through data, for a limited time we’re offering at very low to no cost to you to see if we can run a pilot program,” Dodd said.

Contact Jan Falstad at or 657-1306.

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