IBM Prepares for a Martian Invasion

Big Blue's Power Architecture is about to blast off to the Red Planet with some help from NASA.

IBM is preparing for a Martian invasion of its own.

When NASA launches its new Phoenix Mars Lander Aug. 4, it will use an onboard BAE Systems computer that is based on IBMs Power Architecture, according to the IT giant, based in Armonk, N.Y.

When it lands on Mars, the Phoenix will steer its way toward the Red Planets north pole to explore that frozen section, all the while searching for signs of life. Guiding NASAs latest probe will be a radiation-hardened RAD6000, an embedded, single-board computer designed by BAE Systems, a London-based defense and aerospace contractor.

As it has with previous missions to Mars, IBM is supplying 32-bit Power processing power to this computer. In 2003, Power Architecture technology helped both the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers during their mission to Mars to look for signs of water on the planet.

Once again, IBM licensed its processor technology to BAE and helped design the computers for the latest mission to Mars.

/zimages/4/28571.gifIBM still holds the number one ranking on the worlds supercomputer list. Click here to read more.

After it lands on Mars, the Phoenix, which cost $420 million to design and build, will endure temperatures of minus-100 degrees Fahrenheit and wind speeds of up to 40 meters per second, according to IBM and NASA. On previous space missions, Power-based systems survived winds of 80 mph and temperatures that reached close to minus-200 degrees, according to IBM.

Raj Desai, vice president of IBMs Global Engineering Solutions, said the whole idea of using Power Architecture on a NASA mission was to test the limits of computing and design. It also allows the companys engineers to see how the technology works under harsh conditions.

"There are a lot of innovations that go into the engineering of it," Desai said. "What we are doing is pushing the boundaries of physics and design rules."

From a business perspective, the latest announcement by IBM shows how far the company has moved away from supplying Power-based processors to regular PCs. Now the companys efforts involve moving the architecture into high-end server systems as well as highly specialized fields and the consumer market.

At the 2007 Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, IBM demonstrated how its Power Architecture and Cell processors have made their way into gaming systems, cell phones and automobiles.

In addition, IBMs project, which the company established in 2004, is a way to make its Power Architecture much more open.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about how IBMs Cell processor is coming to the mainframe.

Earlier this year, IBM and several partners entered into an agreement to expand even further into the consumer and embedded microprocessor market.

According to that agreement, the companies will jointly develop microprocessors that will be built on a 32-nanometer manufacturing process that will use CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor), a process for manufacturing processors.

The goal, according to IBM and its partners—including Freescale, Samsung, Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing and Infineon Technologies—is to develop high-performing, energy-efficient chips at 32 nanometers for use in a wide range of consumer products, handheld devices and even supercomputers.

/zimages/4/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.