Tiny lights in shades of yellow and blue pulse against a dark backdrop of what looks like rows of high-tech pianos — vertical keys of black and gray tucked into rows of towering rectangles that fill a football field-sized room.
The static state of the machines, save the epileptic lights, belies the energy and intertwined data coursing through a fiber optic grid 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This refrigerated space is set inside a quiet research campus on the rural outskirts of Anderson County, South Carolina. Apart but not far from Clemson’s main campus, it is intentionally integrated into some of the most cutting-edge research happening on campus and nationwide.
This hub of computational research is called the Palmetto Cluster, one of the largest supercomputers in the country, ranked fourth among U.S. academic systems on the Top500 list. Powered by both cutting-edge technology and inquisitive human researchers, the Palmetto Cluster is generating answers to big questions — huge ones — queries so expansive that the world’s most knowledgeable researchers did not even know to ask many of them, much less have the capacity to answer them, as recently as a decade ago.
Since its inception in 2007, the Palmetto Cluster has been impressive for its massive amounts of storage and processing speed. But it is the people behind the cluster, and the questions they are asking, that position the cluster and Clemson to be able to continue expanding and connecting with innovative people and ideas all around the world.
The cluster is the result of a partnership between Clemson faculty and the University’s information technology administrators to give high-performance computing capabilities to researchers at all levels. And it makes the University competitive for research grants and contracts that contribute to Clemson’s classification as a major research university.