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RealTime IT News

IBM Commences Operation "Blue Storm"

IBM Corp. Friday said it received another endorsement by a weather forecasting organization to craft a supercomputer that helps meteorologists predict, well, the weather.

Called "Blue Storm," the huge machine, doubling as supercomputer and storage network, was requested recently by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) to help meteorologists improve their forecasting abilities. The system is based on the IBM eServer p690, also known as Regatta. By 2004, it is expected the machine will run at more than 20 teraflops, or 20 trillion calculations per second.

ECMWF employees will access Blue Storm via IBM IntelliStation workstations running Linux, while researchers throughout Europe will access the system over a wide-area network.

IBM will supply ECMWF with a computing network that is projected to be about five times more powerful than ECMWF's current systems, but that doesn't say much when it isn't revealed how powerful that organization's machines are. What is known if how powerful "Blue Storm" is.

Here are some specs to consider: Blue Storm is expected to contain 1.5 petabytes (1,000 trillion bytes) of data by 2004 -- equivalent to the storage capacity of 75,000 average desktop PCs; One-and-a-half petabytes is the equivalent of 1.5 billion 400-page books; Memory capacity is 4.1 terabytes, or 32,000 times more than most desktop PCs; it can perform more than 20 trillion calculations per second.

Relative to IBM's previous supercomputers, Blue Storm is slated to be nearly two times faster than IBM's ASCI White, the most powerful computer ever built. It will also be 1,700 times more powerful than Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer that defeated chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

Dr. David Burridge, director of ECMWF, said Blue Storm will provide ECMWF with the "unprecedented level of computational power needed to make major advances" in areas such as using the info culled with Blue Storm through an enhanced network of satellite observation systems; representation of heating and cooling, cloud formation and dissipation, rain, snow and other processes in the Centre's model of the global atmosphere ( the model has 21 million grid points distributed throughout the atmosphere between the surface and a height of 65 kilometers); and improvements of the techniques developed by the Centre, based on chaos theory, to estimate the uncertainty in the forecasts and the probabilities of alternative developments.

IBM's play Friday highlights a pattern the company has steered toward -- that of building machines for organizations that deal with elements such as weather and energy. Just last month, Big Blue was asked to develop supercomputers for the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) and The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) (a $24 million contract).

IBM also does similar work for the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, the Naval Oceanographic Office and the National Climactic Data Center.

IBM is pretty much the supreme being in terms of supercomputing, but last month the tech giant lost its top slot as having the most powerful machine (ASCI White) to Compaq's 3,024-processor Terscale, according to research by IDC. But it all depends on who you want to listen to because Top500.org lists IBM as the leader.