IBM wins $290 million DOE contract for supercomputers

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on Tuesday announced it has awarded IBM a contract worth US$290 million to build what department officials claim will be the two fastest supercomputers that would have a combined peak processing capability of 460 trillion calculations per second.

The first system, called ASCI Purple, will be used for simulation and modeling in the U.S. nuclear weapons mission. It reportedly will have more than 1.5 times the processing power of all of the 500 machines currently listed on the Top 500 List of Supercomputers, spokesmen for IBM and the DOE said.

ASCI Purple will be the world's first system capable of producing 100 teraflops or close to being three times faster than the most powerful computer in operation today, IBM officials said. It will be made up of a cluster of Power5-based IBM eServer systems and IBM storage systems, the officials added.

The system will serve as the lead supercomputer in the DOE's Advanced Simulation and Computing Initiative, more commonly known as ASCI. The DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) Stockpile Stewardship Program will rely on it to simulate the aging and operation of U.S. nuclear weapons, an IBM spokesman said.

The second system, called Blue Gene/L, will be used in a number of different areas including predicting global climate changes and studying the interaction between atmospheric chemistry and pollution.

Blue Gene/L will contain next-generation IBM semiconductor and system technologies and will be based on a new architectures now being developed by between IBM and the DOE for the government's ASCI Program. The system is expected to have a peak performance of 360 teraflops with up to 65,536 computing nodes.

IBM and the DOE will also use the system to develop and run a broad suite of scientific applications, including the simulation of very complex physical phenomena of national interest such as turbulence, biology, and behavior of high explosives, spokesmen said.

"We think these systems will manifest the sort of leadership in high-end computing that will enable our nation to not only solve the world's most complex computationally intensive problems, but to serve all humankind as they help us uncover breakthrough discoveries," said Nick Donofrio, senior vice president of Technology and Manufacturing for IBM.

Extending out its On Demand Computing initiative outlined just last month by company chairman Sam Palmisano, the ASCI Purple system will contain integrated autonomic self managing features, intended to ease system administration and reliability.

The ASCI system, which will be powered by some 12,544 of IBM's Power5 microprocessors, will have a self-discovery feature that will enable it to locate and register thousands of components in the system, which will free up system administrators from to pursue other tasks.

ASCI Purple's Power 5 chips will be able to detect and recover from errors without an administrator's assistance. When the system tracks down repeated errors it will be capable of moving the workload over to another part of the machine, a spokesman said.

These technical innovations will benefit both commercial and technical users. Some of the same self-managing and self-protecting technologies used in ASCI Purple will be available for businesses consolidating workloads, implementing large parallel databases.

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