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IBM picked to supply Wyo. climate supercomputer

Mon, 11/07/2011 - 2:06pm
MEAD GRUVER - Associated Press - Associated Press

IBM has beaten out three competitors and won a bid to supply one of the world's most powerful supercomputers for use in climate research at a new facility in Cheyenne.

The supercomputer, to be called Yellowstone, will begin running computations next summer for scientists associated with the Boulder, Colo.-based National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR announced Monday.

The machine will be capable of 1.6 petaflops. That's 1.6 quadrillion operations per second — or more than 221,000 calculations per second for every man, woman and child on Earth — making it 30 times more powerful than the machine currently in use at NCAR's Mesa Laboratory in Boulder.

It will likely be the world's fastest supercomputer dedicated to Earth sciences and rank among the top 20 supercomputers in the world overall, said Anke Kamrath, director of operations and services for NCAR's Computational and Information Systems Laboratory.

The budget is $25 million to $35 million. IBM pitched a system with well-integrated processors that NCAR was confident would be delivered on time, Kamrath said.

"Making this kind of data-friendly, on the scale of operating on many petabytes of data, is key," she said.

She declined to name the other companies that tried to land the contract.

The Yellowstone machine will aid a wide range of research into weather, climate, oceanography, air pollution, space weather, computational science, energy production and carbon sequestration. The center also will store scientific data including historical climate records.

The supercomputer will be delivered around March to a purpose-built $70 million facility in a business park west of Cheyenne. The bulk of work on the building wrapped up last summer.

Assembly and testing of the supercomputer will take a couple months. Researchers who reserve time on the machine in advance will then be able to log onto it from all over the world.

"The 30-fold huge increase, it's huge," Kamrath said. "We're so oversubscribed now on our system, I expect that they're going to fill it up very quickly."

NCAR has a long history of using supercomputers, all the way back to the Cray 1-A, one of the world's first supercomputers which crunched numbers there from 1977 to 1989. The Yellowstone supercomputer will be 9.7 million times faster with 3.4 million times the disk capacity and 19 million times the central memory size of the Cray 1-A, according to NCAR.

NCAR also has a long relationship with International Business Machines Corp., which is thrilled to be able to provide the computational power to support the latest climate modeling, said David Jursik, IBM's vice president of high-performance computing.

"Computers, I think the scientists had a very good idea what forces they needed to connect but there wasn't ever the computational ability to connect them because the computers weren't capable enough," Jursik said.

That's beginning to change, he said.

NCAR is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The Wyoming Legislature committed $21 million for the supercomputer project in 2007.

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