Energy, IBM sign $85M pact for world's fastest computer

The Energy Department signed an $85 million contract with IBM Corp. Feb. 12 to build the fastest computer in the world within the next two years.

The pact, under which IBM will produce a supercomputer capable of performing 10 trillion operations per second (10 teraflops), is the newest piece in DOE's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, which is aimed at supporting the commercial development of computers powerful enough to handle the complex calculations required to support DOE's nuclear research activity.

Earlier this month, DOE awarded four contracts worth a total of $50 million to IBM and three other companies to research how to get to the final stage of the project, creation of a 100-teraflops machine by 2004 (see story, Page 44).

IBM will install the computer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where it is under contract to deliver a 3-teraflops computer later this year. DOE selected IBM to build the next machine under an option in the current pact, said Gil Weigand, deputy assistant secretary for strategic computing and simulation at DOE.

Mike Borman, general manager for IBM's RS/6000 product line, said the 512-node system would have 1,000 times the power of the "Deep Blue" supercomputer that recently beat chess master Garry Kasparov. The system, like two others DOE has bought from Silicon Graphics Inc./Cray Research, supports simulation of nuclear explosions, eliminating the need for live underground nuclear tests, as required under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Mark Goldman, director of business planning for SGI/Cray, said his company has a follow-on option similar to IBM's in its contracts with DOE. "That's the way it's supposed to work," he said.

President Clinton wants the Senate to ratify the test ban treaty this year. DOE Secretary Federico Pena said the United States has not performed nuclear tests since 1992, but treaty opponents are skeptical that future tests will not be needed. Pena said DOE for the past two years has been using the systems it has to certify that the nation's nuclear stockpile is safe and reliable.

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