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IBM Supercomputer The Latest Olympic Entry

It won't clear the polluted air around Beijing, but the new IBM supercomputer purchased by the Beijing Meteorological Bureau (BMB) will go a long way to help forecast the weather and air-quality control in next year's Olympic games.

The System p575 is an 80-node machine with IBM's POWER5+ microprocessors, capable of delivering 9.8 teraflops per second. Based on the initial configuration, it will be among the top 10 supercomputers in China, according to the Top 500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers.

The IBM computer will provide 10 times the computational power of the BMB's current weather forecasting system and allow for hourly forecasts of weather and air quality in and around Beijing. The system is capable of sweeping an area up to 44,000 square kilometers to provide hourly numerical weather forecasts for each square kilometer.

Herb Schultz, marketing manager for IBM Deep Computing, said doing localized weather prediction is actually harder than big-picture regional forecasting because it requires more precise analysis and prediction.

"A supercomputer is needed for the size of memory required and precision and accuracy of the calculations and the scalability it brings," he told internetnews.com. "This system is capable of doing the kind of calculations you can't get on a commodity system. A basic Linux cluster would have a hard time. Even if it could do the calculations, it won't have the memory or redundancy needed."

The BMB system has the option of adding even more processing nodes to scale up. Each node can use up to 256GB of memory.

IBM chose not to use the newer POWER6 processor, released earlier this year, because it's geared more toward mid-range servers, according to Schultz. But it will eventually be scaled up to support high-performance computing like the POWER5+.

IBM has used something similar to predict local weather and climate conditions in every Olympics since the 1996 games in Atlanta. Since then, Schultz said, some kind of supercomputing capability was used by the games to work around the weather.