DARPA taps IBM and Cray to build super supercomputers

IBM and Cray will continue their work to develop the next generation of supercomputing systems for the Defense Department, using $494 million awarded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency yesterday.

The new awards represent phase three of DARPA’s High Productivity Computer Systems (HPCS) program. Sun Microsystems, which had been part of phase two, was eliminated in this the final round.

In designing the proposed system, IBM will focus on advancing the state of supercomputer software, not just processor power.

“This has less to do with acquiring a machine and everything to do with helping to build the technologies that will benefit the industry more broadly,” said Dave Turek, vice president of Deep Computing at IBM.

Past supercomputer contracts have focused on hardware, creating gaps in the broader technology portfolio that need to be filled, Turek said. IBM expects to share the project’s creations with government laboratories and companies throughout the industry.

Productivity and ease of use are the top priorities, he said. For example, IBM will develop new tools for programmers and new data management strategies. “This is going to drive technology that will cascade throughout our entire product portfolio,” Turek said.

Also, IBM wants to simplify the management of supercomputing systems for administrators, programmers and program employees, using an applications-driven approach, Turek said.

Cray’s HPCS supercomputer will be based on the concept of adaptive supercomputing, an architecture that allows users to program in their own style and requires the computer to adapt to the application.

“The DARPA HPCS program is an important force that is shaping the future of high productivity computing and the entire computing industry,” said Peter Ungaro, Cray’s president and CEO, in a news release.

By 2010, IBM and Cray will deliver prototype computers capable of two petaflops sustained performance, scalable to four petaflops, which is 10 to 20 times faster than the world’s current fastest supercomputer, IBM’s Blue Gene. It is located at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

DARPA is pursuing supercomputers for several government agencies, including the National Security Agency and the Energy Department’s NNSA. The capability will drive development of advanced weapons, military planning, cryptanalysis, and nuclear stockpile maintenance, said William Harrod, DARPA’s HPCS program manager.

“High productivity computing is a key technology enabler for meeting our national security and economic competitive requirements…and for science and discovery in security related fields,” he said.


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