Milwaukee Institute doubles supercomputer capacity to help area businesses

Milwaukee-based nonprofit The Milwaukee Institute Inc. recently announced a new $500,000 investment to double the capacity of its high-performance computing infrastructure.

“The Institute is committed to creating this technical computing environment to help boost technology-based companies in Wisconsin,” said Jay Bayne, executive director.

Founded in 2007, the Milwaukee Institute is a place where member businesses have access to modeling, simulation and visualization tools for development of new products and services as well as other advanced computing resources that can be used and applied in a variety of different ways. The resources available at the Milwaukee Institute go far beyond the capabilities of normal computer systems.

This is important to the regional economy, said Bayne, a former chief technology officer at Johnson Controls, because “the role of modeling and simulation is expanding in essentially every dimension you can think of,” he said.

These “supercomputers” or “high performance computers” have many high-level processers and an abundance of storage space. This upgrade, said Bayne, takes the Milwaukee Institute’s high performance computing (HPC) infrastructure to the next level.

“This upgrade basically doubled its capacity in terms of servers,” said Bayne. “By a factor of 10, it increased the size of the storage; we went from 20 terabytes of storage to 160 terabytes. That significant increase in storage is brought about by ‘big data analytics.’ Companies are recognizing they have historical databases they’ve collected over a number of years and those databases are very, very large.”

The upgrades to the infrastructure, which is also called the MGrid (metropolitan computing grid), will be completed by the end of October. The Institute describes the MGrid as a publically shared technical computing resource.

A variety of different Wisconsin companies in health care, manufacturing, financial services, transportation, defense and media and design industries currently use the MGrid. With this upgrade, the MGrid can support twice as many customers without wait times.

The Medical College of Wisconsin, said Bayne, has been using the MGrid infrastructure for several years. He said their “computation load will take less than half the time it did before the upgrade,” meaning they’ll be able to double the number of jobs they do at the Milwaukee Institute.

“That pent up demand is the reason we did the upgrade,” said Bayne. “Our current users are the ones asking for more capacity.”

“With the resources at the Milwaukee Institute, large modeling and visualization projects to support our research now only takes hours, instead of days, to complete,” said Allen Cowley Jr. PhD., chairman of the department of physiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “My teams are now more productive and this makes a difference in being nationally competitive.”

Rockwell Automation also uses the resources of the MGrid to help its business.

“During the past two years, the Milwaukee Institute’s high-performance computing resources have helped improve some of our product design processes and quality. Given the institute’s newest HPC upgrade, we can expand the boundaries of our computational fluid dynamics work there through enhanced modeling and simulation.”

It’s not only large companies that use the MGrid, Bayne said.

“We are big on workforce development and we allow start-ups to use the system free of charge,” Bayne said.

So how, exactly, do these companies use the MGrid?

“In a typical situation, a commercial company will join the MGrid, and sign the terms and conditions,” said Bayne. “Then we credential them and assign resources for their use (ensuring they are isolated from others to protect on intellectual property). They will be in their own corporate facilities…and they log in and work on that model, it executes on our data center, and results are returned to them when the session is completed.”

The MGrid and its upgrades are part of the Milwaukee Institute’s mission to raise the bar in the region for advanced technology and high level computing.

“We are the only supercomputer center that’s publicly available in all of Wisconsin,” said Bayne. “We’re encouraging the growth of this as a statewide resource. That’s part of our five-year strategy. The institute is committed to creating this technical computing environment to help boost technology-based companies in Wisconsin. It’s important to note that this (upgrade) is part of a commitment to a larger mission.”

Bayne said for Wisconsin to be competitive in today’s economy, these types of technologies need to be adopted by area companies and utilized to their fullest extent.

“Because southeastern Wisconsin is more of a traditional manufacturing environment, its competitiveness is at risk because this type of technology-intensive innovation is lagging,” he said. “There’s a fundamental weakness in our computational infrastructure. The institute was created to accelerate that to help with the training and the motivation for our regional companies.”

Dan Shafer covers innovation and technology for BizTimes Milwaukee. Send news to him at or follow him on Twitter @danshaferMKE.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display