Monday, December 6, 2010

More than a Ribbon Cutting

When we first moved to the Valley, I was continually amazed at the unexpected places MV Alumni turned up. I am no longer as surprised when someone tells me they “got their start” or “their restart” at MVCC. A couple weeks ago, in this blog, I described the good fortune of having many homegrown businesses in the Mohawk Valley, with a number being led by MVCC grads. Most of my experience for that post came from visiting many local businesses recently, to better understand their needs.

Another way I've gained exposure to “the amazing Mohawk Valley” is by attending community events, like a ribbon cutting this past week at the Air Force Research Lab in Rome. I responded to the invitation because the Lab is both a great community asset and a great partner with our engineering programs. Truth be told, I was also very curious about a ribbon cutting for a computer. The AFRL unveiled its newest supercomputer, the Condor.

In this case, a healthy dose of curiosity was a very good thing because we learned an awful lot in a relatively short period of time. The program flyer included phrases like “computing power of supercomputers is measured in FLOPS or floating point operations per second…a typical household laptop can achieve 10 billion FLOPS,” and the Condor will “…achieve 500 trillion FLOPS…equivalent to 50,000 laptops.” Whoa! Digesting that kind of information, I could only look forward to the rest of the presentation. They went on to describe the acceleration of information processing and supercomputer development over the recent past. We learned that supercomputers are closer than ever to being able to process information at speeds equal to the human brain. According to the Lab, we'll likely surpass that mark in the next few years. My head was spinning.

The more specifics they provided, the more interested I became. The Department of Defense was looking for a cost effective way to power and run a supercomputer for critical information processing of detailed imagery for the Air Force and other state-of-the-art research. In response, AFRL engineers connected and optimized 1,716 Sony Playstation III (PS3) game consoles (no kidding) and 168 General Processing Units – all off-the-shelf products. With the ability to put these processors in “sleep mode," the Condor produces an energy savings multiplier of 15 from comparable supercomputers. All that computing power, with far less use of electrical power to drive it is truly an amazing work of human ingenuity – produced right here in Oneida County.

During the ceremony recognizing folks who played an important part in conceiving and creating the Condor, several individuals stopped to say, “I’m one of yours.” I stayed long after the program finished to talk with a half dozen engineers and technicians who, upon completing their studies at MVCC, earned their B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. Each one is now working in a degree relevant field at the Air Force Research Lab. Each spoke of the rigor, quality, and pride of their MVCC experience. Each noted the incredibly supportive learning environment they experienced at MV.

Some of the most important, cutting edge work in the world of supercomputing is being done just down the road...and all of it by highly trained and incredibly skilled professionals, many of whom got their start at MVCC. Driving back to the office, I marveled at what I had just experienced...and, from a slightly different perspective, that much of it didn’t surprise me at all. The work many of our colleagues did years ago played a significant role in the astounding demonstration of high technology I witnessed at the Rome Research Site last week. This technology will inevitably benefit millions of people around the globe - in so many unknown ways it’s hard to comprehend.

Like the work done with our alumni at AFRL, the work we do with students today, tomorrow, and next week will reap unknown accomplishments in the future. Every MVCC faculty and staff member should be proud because of the work we do to help every student who chooses to study here. Because of that work, the promise of the community college comes alive in the most fascinating ways every day. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.