Holyoke’s Newest, Shiniest, Most Glamorous Reference Account

John Goodhue of the Mass. Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke shares his vision at the Bungalow. Photo by Van Dog.

John Goodhue is used to tough questions.  He rose up after college at  MIT to help create eBay and other companies, and eventually sold his internet firm to Cisco. He’s faced VCs and plenty of other tough questioners, and he knows how to make very large,  very powerful networked computers. Tonight he explained the project that he’s been very excited about, and broke the news that he’s officially in charge from here on out.

The Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke will have an array of many thousands of networked computers and when done, will be among the 500 of the word’s  most powerful computers.  It’s set to open in the flats of Holyoke in 2012. Ground has been broken on the former Mastex factory site, and the building will be as green as can be built, LEED certified. It’s a pretty good use for a brownfields site, and the price was right for all parties involved.

Goodhue explained the origins of the project: Six Massachusetts universities were all using their own computers in myriad buildings and between them, were spending way, way too much on electricity and individual infrastructure. It was time to put them all in one purpose-built place, share the costs, and take advantage of cheap, green electricity. Holyoke has hydropower, plus an industrial area that’s very close to some of the fastest fiber optic connections in the state, in nearby Chicopee.  The idea was born after MIT’s president told UMass’s Jack Wilson her dream….to build this new monument to ingenuity in Holyoke.

I joined a packed house at Holyoke’s Bungalow tonight to learn about the nearly $300 million project.  “It’s a reference account,” Goodhue explained. That means that despite the fact that it won’t generate tax revenue, won’t employ local builders, and will only employ 15-20 people, it is the kind of touchstone a city needs to build on. It’s the driving force behind Innovate Holyoke, which will leverage state and private resources to bring related tech businesses to the area, and connect universities with this, the ultimate geek tool. A supercomputer powered by hydropower.

A silver-haired man in the crowd challenged Goodhue, chiding him for the lack of jobs and lack of taxes, and asked, “just what IS Holyoke getting out of this?”  That’s when Goodhue explained how crucial  the reference account is.  It’s a major development that private firms will build their businesses around.  A UMass official mentioned that students from STCC and HCC and area high schools will be exposed to the center and cutting-edge computing.  A resource this powerful will connect academics and engineers,  and will have scientists conducting complex experiments, and will bring attention to the city and if they can leverage several other initiatives at the same time, a critical mass will be achieved.

A Holyoke real estate agent piped in, telling the crowd that he’s already been getting interest from companies to open up in the flats just by pointing out the future home of the GHPCC. Goodhue added that when something like this is built, it gives a huge range of other businesses a reason to take note of the location–Holyoke.

He gave a few examples…such as if you were a medical researcher looking into the causes of hay fever. You could model every possible combination of drug and disease. Or if you wanted to test the effects of driving a car at 1000 mph, you could model every possible outcome and nobody would die in the process.

But it isn’t the things we know we could do that makes Goodhue so excited. It’s the incredible array of ideas that will pour into this center. ” Imagine what we can do, imagine what we haven’t even thought of doing yet,” Goodhue said

Kathleen Anderson, the city’s planner, called the GHPCC a ‘leverager,’ meaning that its existence will trigger other grants and projects to move ahead.  Like everyone in CRUSH, she’s excited about the city and can’t wait to see what happens next.