Three companies get supercomputing R&D contracts

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded three computer manufacturers contracts totaling $146.1 million to design new kinds of high-performance computers for future national security needs.

Cray Inc. of Seattle, IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., which were among five participants in the first phase of DARPA's High Productivity Computing Systems (HPCS) program, will embark on a three-year effort to build prototype components that could go into a new kind of supercomputer by the end of the decade.

According to DARPA officials, the high-productivity systems needed by 2009 or 2010 will be easier to program and have much more I/O and memory bandwidth than today's supercomputing clusters.

Cray and its wholly owned subsidiary, New Technology Endeavors Inc., were awarded $43.1 million toward R&D work on new processor architectures, processor-in-memory technology and software models. Cray's effort is code-named Cascade.

IBM got $53.3 million for an effort dubbed Productive, Easy-to-use, Reliable Computing Systems, or PERCS. The company's goal for PERCS is to make supercomputers more adaptable and power-efficient.

Sun received $49.7 million for R&D work on its Hero program for a simplified, single-system architecture. Such an architecture would reduce the cumbersome programming efforts that clustered systems require, said Mike Vildibill, Sun's director of government programs.

MIT Lincoln Laboratory of Lexington, Mass., will assess the efforts of the three HPCS vendors. DARPA will choose at least one of the second-phase participants to build a full-scale system in the third phase of HPCS.

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