IBM to build the world's fastest supercomputers

BALTIMORE — Experts from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are looking to IBM to build the two fastest supercomputers in the world with a combined peak speed as fast as 467 trillion calculations per second (teraflops).

By J.R. Wilson

BALTIMORE — Experts from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are looking to IBM to build the two fastest supercomputers in the world with a combined peak speed as fast as 467 trillion calculations per second (teraflops).

DOE leaders awarded IBM a contract worth between $216 million and $267 million for the two supercomputers — dubbed ASCI Purple and Blue Gene/L. These machines will have more total processing power than the combined power of all 500 machines on the recently announced TOP500 list of supercomputers.

ASCI Purple, a fifth-generation system under DOE's Advanced Simulation and Computing program (commonly known as ASCI), will be the first 100 teraflop supercomputer, with more than twice the speed of the most powerful computer currently in operation, company officials say.

Comprising a massive cluster of PowerPC-based IBM eServer systems and IBM storage systems, it will enable DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Stockpile Stewardship program to simulate operations of the nation's aging nuclear weapons. This is to help ensure the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons without the need for underground testing.

Employing IBM semiconductor and system technologies based on new architectures developed under ASCI, Blue Gene/L will have a theoretical peak performance as fast as 367 teraflops, with 130,000 processors running the Linux operating system.

Able to process data at a rate of one terabit per second, equivalent to the data transmitted by 10,000 weather satellites, the supercomputers will see use at the three NNSA laboratories — Los Alamos in Los Alamos, N.M.; Sandia in Albuquerque, N.M.; and Lawrence Livermore in Livermore, Calif.

The new supercomputers also will se use at the ASCI University Alliance and other DOE laboratories to develop and run a broad suite of scientific applications. Those will include simulating complex physical phenomena, such as turbulence, prediction of material properties and the behavior of high explosives.

"Blue Gene/L represents a leap forward in the ASCI strategies of accelerating computing development," says Mark Seager, assistant director for advanced technologies for Livermore's Computation Directorate. "It's like having an electron microscope instead of a magnifying glass."

IBM also provided Lawrence Livermore's current most powerful supercomputers — ASCI White in August 2001 and ASCI Blue Pacific in October 1998. ASCI Purple will be delivered in stages, with the first IBM eServer systems arriving next year.

"Over eight times larger than ASCI White, the Purple machine will provide scientists here at Livermore — and at the other NNSA laboratories — with much-needed and unprecedented levels of supercomputing capability, to meet demanding stockpile deliverables for the Department of Defense," says Lawrence Livermore director Michael Anastasio.

The 100 teraflop ASCI Purple system, running IBM's AIX 5L operating system, will be powered by 12,544 POWER5 microprocessors, IBM's next generation microprocessor, contained in 196 individual computers with a total memory bandwidth of 156,000GB, the equivalent of 31,200 DVD movies every second. The computers are connected by a super-fast data highway with a total interconnect bandwidth of 12,500GB. The system will also contain 50 terabytes of memory (50 trillion units) —400,000 times the capacity of the average desktop PC.

More in Communications