Oak Ridge gets super win

The Energy Department has chosen Oak Ridge National Laboratory to build a supercomputer that can handle 50 teraflops, or 50 trillion calculations/sec.

Building a leadership-class computer is "vitally important to almost every other scientific endeavor we have," said Energy Department Secretary Spencer Abraham, speaking today at the Council for Competitiveness. He described supercomputers for scientific research as Energy's number two priority behind the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a fusion energy project.

Energy officials expect the supercomputer project to cost $150 million to $200 million during the next five years. They will give the Oak Ridge lab and its development partners, IBM Corp., Cray Inc. and Silicon Graphics Inc., $25 million in funding to begin.

The supercomputer will be in a new 170,000 square-foot building with 400 staffers and 40,000 square feet of space for systems and data storage, according to a department statement.

Oak Ridge's Cray X1 computer will have its capacity boosted to 20 teraflops this year, and another 20 teraflop system will be added to the X1 in 2005, department officials said. They expect to have a 100 teraflop Cray at Oak Ridge in 2006; its capacity could reach 250 teraflops in 2007.

Ray Orbach, director of the Office of Science at the department, said the emphasis of the research is on sustained speed rather than peak speed. Time with the computer will be allocated in blocks, he said.

"We want to solve major problems," he said. "We want to do discovery."

The other finalists in the supercomputer competition were the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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