IBM Inks $290M Supercomputer Contract

Continuing its forward progress of building ultra-powerful machines for
scientific organizations, IBM Corp. picked up a $290 million contract to build two supercomputers for
the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that sport a combined peak speed of 460
trillion floating operations per second, or teraflops.


The deal, announced at the Supercomputing 2002 conference in Baltimore
Tuesday, would see IBM build the two fastest supercomputers ever,
according to what is currently listed on the Top500 List of Supercomputers.


The first supercomputer, dubbed ASCI Purple, will be used for simulation in
the US nuclear weapons mission. It will be capable of calculating data at
100 teraflops, or almost three times faster than the current leader — NEC’s
Earth Simulator, which has been clocked at 35 teraflops. ASCI Purple will
consist of a cluster of IBM’s POWER chip-based eServer systems and
storage systems.


ASCI Purple will serve as the primary supercomputer in the DOE’s Advanced
Simulation and Computing Initiative, or ASCI. The DOE’s National Nuclear
Security Administration’s (NNSA) Stockpile Stewardship Program will use on
ASCI Purple to simulate the aging and operation of U.S. nuclear weapons, to
make sure they are dependable and safe, without underground testing.


Boasting 50 terabytes of memory and two petabytes of storage, ASCI Purple
will be powered by 12,544 of IBM’s forthcoming POWER5 microprocessors, which
features more than 10GB per second memory bandwidth, contained in 196
individual computers and interconnected via a data mainline that exchanges
information at 100 GB per second. Armed with autonomic features for
self-management, ASCI Purple will run IBM’s AIXL operating system.


The new machine will be installed in a dedicated building known as the
Terascale Simulation Facility, currently under construction at Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory in California. IBM has also finished
Livermore’s previous most powerful supercomputers, ASCI White, unveiled in
August 2001, and ASCI Blue Pacific, unveiled in October 1998. ASCI Purple
will be delivered in stages with the first IBM eServer arriving next year.


Giga Information Group Vice President Brad Day said ASCI Purple, due in 2004, is another turning point in the roadmap for next-generation POWER5 servers for IBM.


This is [IBM] trying to get to that same discipline 4 or 8 processor systems in single server framweork build them out to a 128-processor aggregate,” Day told internetnews.com. Day said it’s not much different than HP’s approach with the Itanium2 architecture.

“That announcement suggests the Power [chip architecture] roadmap is a switchitter,” Day said. “It’s strong enough and scalable enough for the commercial workload because it handles CRM and other database stuff, but it is also equally effective at HPC (high-performance computing).”


The second, more powerful system, called Blue Gene/L, will be focused on
scientific research, including predicting global climate change (a common
use for massive machines) and studying the interaction between atmospheric
chemistry and pollution. Developed with the help of new, yet to be
disclosed, chip and system architectures, Blue Gene/L will have a peak
performance of 360 teraflops with 65,536 computing nodes. Massive machines
such as Blue Gene/L can simulate hurricanes for meteorologists.


Mark Seager, assistant director for Advanced Technologies for Livermore’s
Computation Directorate, said the power of Blue Gene/L was analogous to
“having an electron microscope when all the other scientists have a
magnifying glass.”


Blue Gene/L will be used by the three NNSA laboratories, Los Alamos, Sandia
and Lawrence Livermore and the ASCI University Alliance collaborators as
well as other DOE laboratories in the future.

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