IBM Nets Its Largest Contract

Big Blue won a $224 million contract to build the world's fastest supercomputer for the U.S. government's weather forecasting service.

IBM won the largest government contract in its history Friday when the U.S. governments weather forecasting service selected it to build a supercomputer nearly four times as powerful as todays highest performing system.

The contract, bid upon by several U.S. and Japanese companies, is valued at $224.4 million over nine years, making it IBMs biggest contract ever, said a company spokeswoman.

Under the agreement, IBM will gradually build an increasingly powerful computing system for use in weather forecasting by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As a result, the addition of the supercomputer will ultimately benefit millions of Americans.

"This computer is the foundation of weather forecasting for the nation," said Carl Staton, chief information officer for NOAA, in Silver Spring, Md.

As NOAA upgrades its systems performance capabilities, forecasters are better able to predict and pinpoint atmospheric changes, Staton said.

"Weve been able to go to higher and higher model resolutions that allow the forecasts to be more precise," he said. "Were currently running our forecast model at an 80km resolution. This computer will allow us to cut that resolution in half by 2006."

The first phase of deployment to be completed in September will result in a system capable of operating at a peak speed of 7.3 teraflops (one teraflop equals one trillion calculations per second). Thats approximately three times faster than the IBM computing system NOAA currently uses.

The system will be comprised of a cluster of 44 p690 servers supported by 42 terabytes of disk storage utilizing IBMs FAStT500 Storage Server. The computer will be housed and maintained at IBMs e-business Hosting Center in Gaithersburg, Md., with government workers able to access it through a high-speed network.

Over the next nine years, IBM will upgrade the system until it is capable of reach a peak performance of 100 teraflops.

"One of the things the government likes about the IBMs proposal is that well not only be delivering a faster supercomputer today, but the fastest supercomputer in years to come," said Peter Ungaro, vice president of high-performance computer for IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y.

Currently, IBMs fastest system is ASCI-White, which runs at 12 teraflops, and is used to run nuclear test simulations at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The worlds fastest supercomputer is the Earth Simulator developed NEC Corp. in Japan, which runs at 35 teraflops.