IBM, Sun, Cray Score Darpa Contracts

Supercomputer purveyors Sun Microsystems , IBM and Cray Wednesday announced that they have
won a total of $146 million in awards from the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency (DARPA) for high-performance computing system concepts.

High-performance computing is the science of making large computers perform
daunting numbers of calculations per-second, numbering in the trillions or
even quadrillions, capable of coordinating wide-scale projects and tasks.

DARPA awarded the cash in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Interior
as part of the second phase of its High Productivity Computing Systems
(HPCS) Program, which focuses on research and development that will produce
a design for a high performance computing system that is easier for
programmers to use and scales to quadrillions of calculations per second
(peta-scale computing).

DARPA said in a statement the HPCS program will fill a gap in high-end
computing that it anticipates the Department of Defense will see as it moves
from traditional HPTC technology to the future of quantum computing. DARPA
expects the first fruits of these labors will appear in 2009-2010.

For rival systems vendors like IBM, Sun and Cray, the contracts are a big
win at a time when spending of such volume is lower almost everywhere else.
The companies are banking on contracts from the U.S. government, which are
likely to have long lives. Sun, IBM and Cray are all working feverishly to
come up with the fastest computing systems possible for such scientific
projects as weather predictions and aerospace, but DARPA’s challenge is to
make systems easier to use as well.

To wit, Armonk, N.Y.’s IBM secured $53.3 million for a concept called PERCs, which stands
for “productive, easy-to-use, reliable computing systems.” IBM is adapting
the system layers to application requirements and will conduct research to
meet aggressive goals in performance and usability.

Santa Clara, Calif.’s Sun received $49.7 million to continue work on their integrated system
approach known as Hero, which provides an easy-to-use architecture and
programming tools. The architecture offers programmers quadrillions of
calculations per second.

Seattle’s Cray, with help from New Technology Endeavors, received $43.1 million to
develop their Cascade project, which bundles hardware and software to make
peta-scale computing easier. Hardware include new processor architectures to
make more effective use of memory and to provide greater memory bandwidth.
Software include support for shared and distributed memory programming
models to speed new application creation.

The three-phase DARPA program consists of: phase one was a 12-month-long
technology assessment; the current phase two is a 36-month R&D period
designed that will conclude in technology risk reduction demonstrations and
a preliminary design review for each system. The third phase is a 48-month
development effort for those systems.

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