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Climate Agency Awards $350 Million For Supercomputers

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will pay CSC and Cray to plan, build, and operate high-performance computers for climate prediction research.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to spend as much as $354 million on two new supercomputing contracts aimed at improving climate forecast models.

Supercomputing plays an important role at NOAA, as supercomputers power its dozens of models and hundreds of variants for weather, climate, and ecological predictions. However, a recently released 59-page, multi-year strategic plan for its high-performance computing found NOAA needs "new, more flexible" supercomputing power to address the needs of researchers and members of the public who access, leverage, and depend on those models.

In terms of a research and development computer, NOAA found it requires one the power of which will be ultimately measured in petaflops, which would make the future machine one of the world's most powerful supercomputers.

The new supercomputer would support NOAA's environmental modeling program by providing a test-bed for the agency to help improve the accuracy, geographic reach, and time length of NOAA's climate models and weather forecasting capabilities.

The more expensive of the two contracts, which goes to CSC, will cost NOAA $317 million over nine years if the agency exercises all of the contract options, including $49.3 million in funding over the next year from the Obama administration's economic stimulus package, CSC announced earlier this month.

CSC's contract includes requirements analysis, studies, benchmarking, architecture work, and actual procurement of the new system, as well as ongoing operations and support when the system is up and running. In addition, CSC will do some application and modeling support.

One of the goals is to build the system in such a way as to integrate formerly separate systems and to more easily transfer the research and development work into the operational forecasting systems, Mina Samii, VP and general manager of CSC's business services division's civil and health services group, said in an interview.

This isn't the first major government supercomputing contract for CSC. The company has a dedicated high-performance computing group and contracts with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's computational sciences center as well as the NASA Ames Research Center.

Cray announced last Thursday that it will lead the other contract, which stems from a partnership between NOAA and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The $47 million Cray contract is also for a research supercomputer, the forthcoming Climate Modeling and Research System, and includes a Cray XT6 supercomputer and a future upgrade to Cray's next-generation system, codenamed Baker.

"The deployment of this system will allow NOAA scientists and their collaborators to study systems of greater complexity and at higher resolution, and in the process will hopefully improve the fidelity of global climate modeling simulations," James Hack, director of climate research at Oak Ridge and of the National Center for Computational Sciences, said in a statement.

While the two contracts are both related to climate research, it's unclear exactly how the two are related to one another. NOAA did not respond to requests for comment.

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