sealPurdue News
____ January 29, 2002

100 lab computers do 3 years of work in 2 weeks

Program helps turn lab downtime into effective work time

While we enjoyed rest and recreation during the recent holidays, 100 computers in Purdue instructional labs worked nonstop.

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The computers, which typically are idle during class breaks, were put to work by staff in the Office of the Vice President for Information Technology. They accomplished in just two weeks what would have taken a single desktop computer three years.

Samuel Wagstaff, professor of computer science, collaborated with John Campbell, associate vice president for instructional computing services, and Bill Whitson, interim associate vice president for research computing services, to use the untapped computing power for Wagstaff's research in cryptography -- the science of writing and deciphering messages in code.

During the two-week experiment, the computers used software developed at the University of Wisconsin to run Wagstaff's programs. The software, called Condor, can manage large numbers of computers and run programs on them when they would otherwise go unused.

Although other University departments, such as the Engineering Computing Network, have used Condor, the two-week experiment by the OVPIT staff was the first time Condor was used to conduct research computing on instructional lab computers.

The experiment was remarkably successful, finishing three years' worth of complex mathematical computations for Wagstaff's research in two weeks. "I was delighted that they did this work and that it yielded such useful results," Wagstaff says. "I hope they will continue the program and let me use the computers on breaks."

Campbell and Whitson, who are equally delighted, say the OVPIT staff will continue using Condor program and will greatly expand its use. Phase Two of the Condor program involves expanding the number of computers available for research computation to include all of the nearly 2,500 instructional lab machines.

It's too early to predict exactly how many Purdue researchers might be able take advantage of the newly harnessed power, but the potential is tremendous.

"Collectively, the instructional lab systems have roughly three times the raw computational power of Purdue's large IBM supercomputer," Whitson says. "This project allows us to provide a wider range of computer resources for researchers at essentially no cost."

"The collaboration between the OVPIT research and instructional computing groups has been exciting," Campbell says. "Both groups are enthused about utilizing the instructional labs to their full potential to benefit the Purdue research community."

Researchers interested in exploring Condor to facilitate their work should attend a Research Computing User Group meeting Jan. 31 or contact Bill Whitson at 49-68227 or at

Related story:
Purdue supercomputer upgraded, now more versatile

Purdue computer expert Samuel Wagstaff shows how a 167-digit number can be divided into its two prime factors. Wagstaff's research in comples mathematical computations was conducted during a two-week experiment during semester break in which computers in instructional labs were used. Work that would have taken three years on a desktop computer was completed in two weeks.

Reprinted from Inside Purdue
Photo by Dave Umberger