IBM makes $290 million supercomputer pact

The Energy Department today announced plans for IBM Corp. to build two massive supercomputers that will dwarf existing systems for simulating nuclear weapons.

The systems will go live in 2005 at California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

IBM was awarded a $290 million contract to build the computers for the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said at the SC2002 conference in Baltimore.

Although the same company will build both, they will hardly be twins.

One, dubbed ASCI Purple, will use the most recent IBM supercomputer technology to generate a theoretical peak performance of 100 trillion floating-point operations per second. ASCI Purple will run production codes for three-dimensional simulations of weapons systems, said Mark Seager, Livermore's assistant department head for terascale systems.

The Purple system will use 12,544 IBM Power 5 microprocessors and have 50 terabytes of main memory, 100 gigabytes per second of I/O bandwidth and 2,000 terabytes Ñ or 2 petabytes Ñ of disk space, Seager said.

The other supercomputer, Blue Gene/L, will have a peak speed of 360 teraflops, which is roughly 10 times as fast as today's record holder, the Earth Simulator in Japan. Blue Gene/L will perform scientific simulations related to ASCI, but not full-weapons modeling. It will use some low-power, advanced technologies not yet found in IBM's main product lines.

Despite Blue Gene/L's higher peak speed, the system will have only 16 terabytes of memory, 40 gigabytes per second of I/O bandwidth and 400 terabytes of disk space, Seager said. The supercomputer will have 65,000 dual-processor nodes arranged with memory modules in a system-on-a-chip design for low power consumption.

By applying a huge amount of computational power to select problems, such as materials strength and explosives deterioration, researchers will be able to understand those problems better and apply that knowledge to future production models, Seager said.

ASCI Purple represents the summit of the technological road map that Energy Department officials laid out for the ASCI stockpile stewardship program seven years ago.

"Back in 1995, there were a lot of people saying we would never get there, that we were crazy. And now, here we are, announcing this machine," Seager said. "It's one of the proudest moments of my career."

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