RealTime IT News

National Security Brings The Big Bucks

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded IBM  and Cray  roughly $500 million Tuesday to develop supercomputers that run advanced computations at unprecedented speed and performance for national security.

The machines will be used to facilitate phase three of DARPA's High Productivity Computing Systems (HPCS), created to spur development of advanced supercomputers for testing advanced vehicles and weapons, military scenarios, cryptanalysis and image processing and the maintenance of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

Ultimately, HPCS hopes to use the systems from IBM and Cray to achieve two petaflops  (more than two quadrillion calculations per second) of sustained performance, ultimately scaling to four petaflops, DARPA said in a statement.

DARPA, the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense (DoD), expects to complete the HPCS project by 2010.

IBM, which lays claim to four of the 10 most powerful machines on the Top 500 world's most powerful supercomputer list, secured a deal worth $244 million to build a supercomputer that it said provides 100 times the performance of today's supercomputers.

The goal of the IBM machine under the HPCS mission is to bust the petascale barrier of sustaining more than one petaflop for several disparate applications and programming languages.

The trick, of course, is doing it all on one machine.

To achieve this feat, IBM said its machine for DARPA would leverage technologies the company plans to advance in 2010 and beyond, including the IBM's Power7 processor, the AIX operating system, General Parallel File System, Parallel Environment and interconnect and storage subsystems.

Thom Dunning, director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), said in a statement the petascale system will "open many new realms in science and engineering," including predicting the structure and function of complex biological systems, fueling nanotechnology and predicting the changes in the earth's climate.

Cray meanwhile will take home $250 million to build a new hybrid system architecture that combines multiple processor technologies, a new high-performance network and software into one system to scale to at least a petaflop.

Code-named "Cascade," this system, like IBM's next-gen machine for the HPCS mission, will scale to "unprecedented levels of sustained performance on real applications."

The system will employ thousands of AMD Opteron processors and will maximize performance by matching the most effective processor technology to each application.

Cray said it will incorporate elements of the Cascade program into commercially available products, including the petaflops supercomputer, code-named "Baker," that will be delivered to the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Sun Microsystems, which had secured contracts with DARPA in earlier phases of the long-running deal, was not part of this third contract phase, which goes through 2010.

DARPA spokesperson Jan Walker told internetnews.com DARPA all along had planned on picking two vendors out of IBM, Sun and Cray for Phase III of the HPCS mission.

IBM and Cray just happened to better meet the specific HPCS criteria, Walker said.

These criteria included: scientific and technical merit; technical productivity solutions; relevance of the company's approach to the applications of HPCS mission partners; viability of company's commercial product and lifecycle costs; management process; and cost realization.

Sun said in a statement that though it will not participate in Phase III of the HPCS effort, it has already achieved great advantage from research and development stemming from the first two phases, including the Fortress language, Proximity interconnect, checkpointing and high-speed file systems.

"Sun will continue to develop these technologies and systems to scale throughout our product line," a Sun spokeswoman wrote via e-mail.