IBM Supercomputers Built to Order for DOE

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2002-11-25

IBM has been tapped by the U.S. Department of Energy to build the two fastest supercomputers in the world.

Under the $290 million contract, which the DOE announced last week at the Supercomputing show in Baltimore, IBM will build one computer that will simulate nuclear weapons explosions and weapons deterioration. Another will be used to crunch numbers for such scientific research as helping to predict changes in the global climate and to track the relationship between the atmosphere and pollution.

IBM said it expects to deliver the supercomputers over the next two to three years, with the first IBM eServers being delivered for one system sometime next year, according to Ravi Arimilli, an IBM fellow, in Austin, Texas.

Combined, the two supercomputers, named ASCI Purple and Blue Gene/L, will provide a peak speed of 460 teraflops—or trillion calculations per second—and will have more than 1.5 times the combined processing power of all 500 computers currently on the Top500 list of supercomputers, according to IBM.

"Most trends you see in the industry are slowing down, but in the supercomputing environment, you see just the opposite," Arimilli said.

ASCI—for the DOEs Advanced Simulation and Computing Initiative—Purple will run about eight times faster than the last supercomputer IBM built for the DOE, last year, and will work at a speed close to that of the human brain, IBM said. The supercomputer, which will reach a peak speed of 100 teraflops, will be a massive cluster of IBM eServers and storage systems powered by 12,544 Power5 microprocessors. The chips will be contained in 196 individual computers, linked together via an interconnect, with a bandwidth of 12,500GB. It will run IBMs AIXL operating system and hold 50 terabytes of memory. ASCI Purple will enable the DOEs Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in Livermore, Calif., to simulate nuclear weapons explosions without having to actually detonate any test weapons, said IBM, in Armonk, N.Y.

Michel McCoy, acting ASCI program leader at Livermore, said the computer will reduce the degree of "known unknowns" in nuclear weapons explosions by improving the performance of the simulations, giving researchers more information.

The Blue Gene/L will have a peak performance of 360 teraflops with 130,000 chips for use at Livermore, as well as at Sandia and Los Alamos national labs.

Rocket Fuel