IBM makes duo of super deals

IBM Corp. announced a pair of major supercomputer deals Nov. 9, one of which is expected to outperform the top 500 supercomputers combined, and the other will speed up the processes used for predicting climatic changes.

The Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced a partnership with IBM to jointly design a new supercomputer expected to operate at about 200 teraflops, which is greater than the total computing power of the top 500 supercomputers in the world today, according to Livermore officials. A teraflop equals 1 trillion operations per second. The machine, based on IBM's Blue Gene architecture, is called Blue Gene/L and is slated for completion in 2004. Researchers plan to use it to simulate physical phenomena of national interest — fires, explosions and the aging of materials.

Blue Gene/L is the second supercomputer being developed under this IBM program; the first is being built at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to analyze proteins.

Livermore will get help on the Blue Gene/L project from collaborators at the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA), Columbia University, the San Diego Supercomputing Center, and the California Institute of Technology.

David Nowak, the program leader of NNSA's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, said the new machine will be used for "modeling of the aging and properties of materials and the modeling of turbulence, [and] this technology opens the door to a number of applications of great interest to civilian industry and business, like biology and other life sciences."

The machine will be able to work these applications faster because it is equipped with data-chip cells that include two processors: one for computing and one for communicating. In addition, each cell will have its own onboard memory. Each of the data-chip cells will work on a fragment of a larger problem. The IBM and Livermore team will explore the hardware and software components needed to construct this new computing architecture, and the laboratory will provide design expertise for identifying potential applications.

Mark Dean, vice president of systems at IBM Research, said that partnering with Livermore is "a key part of our strategy, as IBM realizes we cannot build these machines on our own and Livermore brings important application and design expertise to the project."

Elsewhere, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) selected Big Blue to provide a supercomputer seven times faster than the current ones being used for predicting climatic changes.

Once NCAR's machine, code named Blue Sky, is completed in September 2002, it will improve the agency's climate modeling capabilities. Blue Sky will accelerate research in global and regional climate change, droughts, short- and long-range weather prediction and warnings, wildland fires, turbulence, atmospheric chemistry, space weather, and other critical areas, said Timothy Killeen, NCAR director.

"The addition of Blue Sky to NCAR's computing center is the single biggest increment in raw computing power in NCAR history," Killeen said.

The National Science Foundation, NCAR's primary sponsor, purchased the new $24 million system, which will be assembled in two phases.

The first phase, beginning this year, will include IBM SP supercomputer technology and will more than double NCAR's processing capacity to 2 trillion calculations per second. In the second phase, scheduled for next fall, the addition of IBM eServer p690 Unix servers will bring the machine's peak speed to 7 trillion calculations per second.

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