Spanish sign IBM for 40T-flop supercomputing centre

IBM signed a deal Wednesday to build a supercomputer capable of 40 trillion floating-point operations per second (40T flops) in Spain, where it will form the heart of a new National Center for Supercomputing. The general purpose computer will be used to conduct research into genetic abnormalities, contagious diseases, climate change and materials science.

If the computer were ready today, it would be the fastest in Europe, according to Spain's Ministry of Science and Technology. It would also come a close second in peak performance to the world's fastest supercomputer, the Earth Simulator in Yokohama, Japan, built by NEC Corp. - but would only consume one fifth as much electricity, and occupy one thirtieth the space, the Ministry said.

However, construction of the Spanish computer will take at least six months, and the projected performance of the computer may have been overtaken by other machines by the time it is finished, according to Adalio Sanchez, general manager for IBM's eServer pSeries products.

The Spanish Minister for Science and Technology, Juan Costa Climent, and Amparo Moraleda Martinez, president of IBM Spain, signed the contract to build the computer at a ceremony in Madrid Wednesday morning.

The Ministry of Science and Technology portrayed the contract as a big win for Spain, saying the computer could have gone to other countries including France, Germany, the U.K. or a research lab in the U.S.

Indeed, IBM was looking around for a research institute with which to collaborate on construction of the computer, and the deal could have gone to a number of places, an IBM spokesman said.

The Spanish government will invest Euro 70 million (AUD$115 million) in the National Center for Supercomputing over four years. IBM officials expect the center will be built at the Technical University of Catalonia, which already hosts a number of advanced computing facilities, and with which the company already has strong links. Staff at the university were unavailable to comment, since they were all attending the signing ceremony in Madrid.

The new computer will contain 4,500 of IBM's 64-bit Power series microprocessors and will run the Linux operating system, Sanchez said. It will be built using the next generation of IBM's JS20 BladeCenter servers, he said. Current generation blades each contain two PowerPC 970 processors running at 1.6GHz and up to 4G bytes of RAM, and ship with either Suse AG's Suse Linux Enterprise Server 8 or Turbolinux Inc.'s Turbolinux Enterprise Server 8.

The new computer will dramatically change the supercomputing landscape in Spain, as its peak performance will be around 52 times that of the country's current record-holder, the Center for Supercomputing in Galicia, which ranks number 227 in a list of the world's 500 most powerful supercomputers maintained by researchers in the U.S. and Germany.

The new computer will also trounce Spain's second-fastest research machine, the week-old Caesar y Cerca. This was built for astrophysics research by the University of Valencia at a cost Euro 1.6 million. It will rank around number 358 in the world, and fourth in Spain, the university said. The second- and third-fastest computers in Spanish are both owned by telecommunications operators.

The Spanish government first announced its intention to acquire the computer two weeks ago, and voted a law to approve the funding on March 4, but kept voters guessing about which region would have the honor of hosting it. The country faces a general election Sunday, and the timing of the deal is seen by some in the industry as a political gambit. Spanish press reports have also speculated that the government handed Catalonia the National Center for Supercomputing to compensate it for losing a bid to host ITER, an international research project to build a nuclear fusion reactor.

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