NCAR Mesa Lab Computing Facility

NCAR Mesa LabHigh-end computing has been a vital facility at NCAR since it was founded and remains integral to NCAR's mission. NCAR's Mesa Lab computing center handled the continually growing computational requirements of the atmospheric and related sciences community until 2012, when operations were moved to the newly constructed NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC), in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Coping with technology changes that span orders of magnitude of increased performance and data storage capacity requires adaptable, flexible infrastructure and facility space. During the time the Mesa Lab computer room housed NCAR's supercomputers, the role of computational science in the atmospheric and related sciences increased dramatically, and it continues to grow today.

Supercomputers are only one component of a functional computing facility. Networking, servers, data analysis and visualization systems, and mass storage systems also must be provisioned. Further, the computing center itself must provide sufficient uninterruptible electrical power, efficiently remove the waste heat produced, and be large enough to house all the systems and support equipment. Above all, the entire facility must be reliable: outages are detrimental to scientific productivity and may even shorten the life span of the equipment.

The Mesa Laboratory Computing Facility, comprising 13,000 square feet, received its last significant upgrade on the electrical and mechanical systems in 2005. The culmination of a five-year process, this work included an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) upgrade, the installation of a standby generator, and a major upgrade of the cooling system, allowing the facility's systems to support a maximum design load of 1.2 megawatts of computing.

To be effective, a computing center must keep four critical resources in balance: the raised-floor area that houses the computers, network connectivity for the computers, the cooling infrastructure to remove waste heat, and the electrical infrastructure to reliably deliver electricity to the computers and the cooling systems.

While computers have lifetimes of three to five years, facilities must continue to be useful for a minimum of 15 years and ideally 30. The computing facilities in the Mesa Lab have exceeded the 30-year mark and are a testament to the foresight of its designers. NCAR's Bluefire, Frost, and Lynx supercomputers, archival storage systems, data analysis and visualization systems, and disk storage resources resided in the Mesa Lab Computing Facility through 2012, when the next supercomputer, named Yellowstone, was installed at the NWSC.

As CISL moves forward with new computing systems at the NWSC, the Mesa Lab Computing Facility will continue to provide a home to key services and resources to enhance the NWSC capabilities, and will serve as a centralized colocation facility for the growing numbers of smaller-scale systems deployed across NCAR's Boulder-area campuses.