Friday, October 10, 2008

Know our people - Srinidhi Varadarajan

Srinidhi Varadarajan is the director of Terrascale computing facility and an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech. He is also the architect of System X, one of the world's fastest and least expensive supercomputers.

Achievements & Awards

He was the lead designer of Virginia Tech’s supercomputer, System X, ranked in November 2003 as the fastest supercomputer at any University in the world. He conceived the idea to use off-the-shelf commercial products to design a supercomputer and built his system in a little less than three months. He targeted price/performance since he did not have the hundreds of millions of dollars available to him that it took to build the world's current top two supercomputers.

The number one supercomputer, Japan’s Earth Simulator, was estimated to cost between $250 and $350 million, and the Department of Energy’s ASCI-Q, a dedicated weapons facility in the number two slot, had an estimated construction cost of $215 million. When System X was rated number three, Varadarajan had accomplished his goal for a mere $5.2 million, an unbelievable price in the field of high-performance supercomputing. This low cost represents a paradigm shift in supercomputing; it means that based on Varadarajan’s work, other major research universities and enterprises can build their own supercomputer.

Dr. Varadarajan is the recipient of the ComputerWorld Honors Award in the Science Category 2004, a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, the Egg Factory Technology Innovation award and a Faculty Fellow award from the College of Engineering, Virginia Tech. Technology Review, MIT’S magazine of innovation honored him in 2004 as one of the top 100 (TR100) young innovators transforming technology.

Personal life

His reading interests are in the, natural sciences - mainly physics, philisophy, international politics/foreign policy and evolutionary biology. In fiction, he likes the classics of which he has a collection of reprints of first editions.

He listens to Indian classical music, both Hindustani and Carnatic. Ravi Shankar's compositions are his favorite, particularly his series with the London Philharmonic. Other favorites include Asad Ali Khan - Rudra Veena, Shiv kumar Sharma - Santoor, N. Rajam, Kunnaikudi Vaidyanathan - violin, and Zakir Hussein and Alla Rakha on the tabla. Among vocalists, he listens to Bhimsen Joshi, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Balamurali Krishnan and Maharajapuram Santhanam. In light music, he prefers old Hindi songs from the 1950s to the 70's, and classic rock - Doors, Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Queen and Led Zeppelin.

Other hobbies include flying and home-brew electronics, particularly microprocessor kits, and discrete solid state amplifiers.

"I still swear by the fidelity of a high power transistor driving a decent pair of Maggies - I use the larger 20.1s and they sound great. One of these days maybe I'll get around to seeing why the audiophiles keep raving about vacuum tubes :-)."

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