IBM brings ASCI super online at Livermore

IBM Corp. completed installation earlier this month of a 1,344-processor SP supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the company announced last week.

The system is an upgrade to one used by the Energy Department's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, which is an effort to build a computer that can calculate 100 trillion floating-point operations per second (100 tera-flops) by 2004. The upgraded computer, which uses a new 332 MHz processor that IBM unveiled last week, has a top speed of 850 to 900 billion floating-point operations per second.

Mike Borman, general manager for IBM's RS/6000 product line, which includes the SP supercomputer, said the announcement means that all IBM customers "can now purchase the same leading-edge technology that powered Deep Blue,'' the computer that defeated chess champion Garry Kasparov, and "that will be the engine of the world's fastest supercomputer.'' IBM recently won a contract from DOE to deliver in two years a 10-teraflops computer that will use the new chips.

David Nowak, the ASCI program manager, said the system will be used to develop 3-D visualizations and high-fidelity physics applications to improve the models used to simulate the condition of the nation's nuclear missile stockpile.

Also, he said, the system will allow users to run current 2-D models at a higher resolution.

Meanwhile, Richard Partridge, service director for the high-end server program with market research firm D.H. Brown Associates, said the new chip allows IBM to begin to offer multipurpose high-performance machines.

Before, customers had to buy different chips for these systems, depending on whether they wanted to run commercial applications or scientific applications.

IBM's competitors in the high-end computing market, such as Silicon Graphics Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., are heading in the same direction, he said.

IBM "wants to make sure this is not a special order or a strange beast but will become a higher [sales] volume [product] because one size fits all,'' Partridge said.

"These are advanced technologies now available in a box that covers a broad range'' of applications, he added.

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