UAF to commission Alaska’s most capable supercomputer

Art by Yumi Kawaguchi
Marmian Grimes

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Arctic Region Supercomputing Center will commission Alaska’s most capable supercomputer during a public ceremony Thursday, Aug. 9 at 4 p.m. in the Board of Regents conference room in the Butrovich Building. Tours of the data center will be offered from 3-3:50 p.m.

The Cray XK6m supercomputer, known as Fish, is named for Alaska’s fisheries and ocean and water resources. ARSC was one of the first organizations to purchase Cray’s newest model, which uses graphics processing units—like those used by gaming computers—to make scientific calculations run even faster. ARSC has operated Cray supercomputers continuously since 1993. The total theoretical peak system performance of the new supercomputer is calculated to be 41.75 Teraflops. Fish joins Pacman, a supercomputer with a theoretical peak system performance of over 31 Teraflops. Both are available to any university affiliate and to the state.

Fish will be housed in two cabinets that will feature artwork created by UAF art student Yumi Kawaguchi. Fish’s purchase was funded primarily through National Science Foundation grants, including PACMAN, the Pacific Area Climate Monitoring and Analysis Network and the Major Research Instrumentation program.

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Liam Forbes, ARSC HPC systems analyst, 907-450-8618, Greg Newby, ARSC director, 907-450-8663,


NOTE TO EDITORS: FAQs and a photo of the artwork on Fish is available online at


Fish FAQs

What is a supercomputer?
Supercomputers are the most powerful computers of the day, harnessing the power of many computer elements (CPU, memory, storage, networks) together in parallel. Because they are expensive and require some specialized knowledge to operate, most large supercomputers have a dedicated support staff, and require some training to utilized effectively.
What is ARSC?
ARSC is the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center, a top-level research unit of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. ARSC was initiated in 1992, and opened in 1993. It was initially funded through the US Department of Defense, but today is focused on supporting the University of Alaska.
What is computational science?
Computational science refers to the utilization of computers for scientific discovery. Historically, theory and experiment were the main approaches to science, but since the 20th century the role of computational has grown tremendously. Scientists might use multiple methods, such as when a field researcher in Alaska utilizes an ARSC supercomputer to analyze her observations.
Why is massive storage needed for computational science?
Large, parallel computations create big files, which must be stored for analysis. These files are often then used as input to another series of computations. At ARSC, storage resources are hundreds of times larger than would be found on a home or office system. Disk storage for Pacman and Fish is 400 Terabytes, and the tape-based hierarchical file system has a capacity of 30,000 Terabytes (30 Petabytes) – enough for millions of years of MP3 music!
What sorts of people utilize ARSC resources?
Over 90 separate computational projects utilize ARSC, and most are based at UAA and UAF. These span virtually all research areas, including biology, chemistry, physics, materials science, weather and climate, oceanography, and satellite observations.
What are some of the scientific outcomes?
Every year, UA’s faculty members report their publications, student theses and dissertations, and other outcomes. ARSC resources play a prominent role, supporting a large number of research projects, as well as student work. ARSC also works with the State of Alaska on computationally-based research, including fisheries science.