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IBM to Make 2nd Blue Gene Supercomputer

Nov 09, 2001

IBM Corp. (NYSE:IBM - news) said on Friday it will build a supercomputer that is smaller, and 15 times speedier than the current fastest computer, enabling users to solve complex questions more quickly and opening the door for its commercial use.

The new computer is expected to be used for everything from weather modeling to studying genomics data and running commercial database applications, IBM said.

It is the second computer planned as part of an expanding five-year, $100 million project called Blue Gene which IBM began in 1999 with the intention of studying proteins.

"Our initial exploration made us realize we can expand our Blue Gene project to deliver more commercially viable architectures for a broad customer set and still accomplish our original goal of protein science simulations,'' Mark Dean, vice president of systems for IBM Research said in a statement.

IBM is working on the new computer, which is called Blue Gene/L, with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a Livermore, California research lab that is part of the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Agency.

Blue Gene/L is expected to be completed in 2004, about 1-1/2 years before the other Blue Gene computer, called Blue Gene/C. That is in part because it will be smaller and slower than the Blue Gene/C.

But it will be more than fast enough to expand beyond the scientific and technical applications that it is working on with Livermore, IBM said. The company is looking for a partner to work on commercial applications, like Web serving and hosting, financial modeling, and data searching.

FASTER, CHEAPER, SMALLER

Blue Gene/L will have a processing speed of 200 teraflops, or 200 trillion calculations per second. That's slower than Blue Gene/C's anticipated 1,000 trillion calculations per second, but about 15 times faster than the world's current fastest computer, which is called ASCI White.

ASCI White is located at the Livermore lab and was made for the Department of Energy's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, or ASCI, and unveiled in June of 2000. ASCI White runs at 12 trillion calculations per second, or 12 teraflops.

In addition to being faster than ASCI White, the Blue Gene/L will consume 15 times less power than ASCI White and teraflop for teraflop, is up to 50 times smaller.

"We get the same amount of computation at roughly one-tenth to one-fiftieth of the space required,'' said Bill Pulleyblank, director of exploratory server systems at IBM.

Computing power aside, ASCI White is still several times larger than the Blue Gene/L will be. It's about the size of two basketball courts, while Blue Gene/L could fit into one-half of a tennis court, IBM said.

In addition, he said, Blue Gene/L will be able to solve some problems in days rather than weeks, which can be important for commercial applications.

"If it takes us three or four days of computation to help an airline build its crew schedule for next month, that's fine as a planning tool,'' Pulleyblank said. "But if we're trying to run that to respond to a snow storm which just hit LaGaurdia (airport), coming back three or four days later to tell how the people are going to be rerouted is not satisfactory.''

The Blue Gene computers would run on chips that contain cells, or processors with both memory and communications circuits. The ASCI White uses off-the-shelf processors with a souped-up version of IBM's commercial operating system.

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