Nanotech to Get Supercomputing Treatment

IBM is teaming with the state of New York and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to pump $100 million into a supercomputing center dedicated to advancing nanotechnology.

Researchers at the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI) on the Rensselaer campus in Troy, N.Y. will focus on reducing the time and expenses associated with building materials, devices and systems at the nanoscale.

Nanotechnology is an emerging field in which engineers are trying to mold individual atoms and molecules to create computer chips and other devices that are thousands of times smaller than current technologies permit.

Successful nanotechnology implementations could bust open the shrinking window of Moore’s Law, , which holds that the number of transistors per a given area doubles roughly every 18 months.

Chip manufacturers have sustained Moore’s Law by shrinking the devices on semiconductor chips. Current circuit components measure about 65 nanometers (nm) in width, or 65 billionths of a meter.

But experts say this needs to shrink to 45 nm by 2009, 35 nm by 2012 and 22 nm by 2015.

Such products are a ways off from being implemented, which is why IBM, New York state and Rensselaer are splitting the $100 million three ways to create CCNI.

“Current semiconductor technology is rapidly approaching its practical limits,” said John E. Kelly, III, IBM’s senior vice president of technology and intellectual property, in a statement.

“New, nanotechnology-based technologies will be needed to sustain the productivity growth that the information technology industry provides to the world economy.”

IBM and Rensselaer will have help from Cadence and AMD, which have agreed to work with them at CCNI to model and simulate nanoelectronic devices and circuitry.

CCNI will comprise IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputers, IBM’s Power chip-based Linux clusters and AMD’s Opteron-based clusters. When it’s operational later this year, the CCNI system will top more than 70 trillion floating points per second, or teraflops .

Seventy teraflops is a lot of computing power for one system. A few years ago, it would have constituted the most powerful supercomputer in the world, but Big Blue has done much to trump itself of late.

The top supercomputer, an IBM Blue Gene/L for the Department of Energy, runs at 280 teraflops. Another Blue Gene/L hits 91 teraflops in IBM’s Watson Research Center.

CCNI could place third on the Top500 supercomputing list if it reaches completion.

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