The system, called Yellowstone, will run on an IBM iDataPlex and should be finished by early next year, according to agency. Researchers will test Yellowstone before it becomes available for research next summer, according to NCAR.
The Wall Street Journal said IBM beat three other vendors for the contract, which is valued between $25 million and $35 million. The system will run on Intel Sandy Bridge EP processors and includes a Mellanox high-speed InfiniBand network.
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In additional to its peak computational rate of 1.6 petaflops, Yellowstone also will have 149.2 TB of memory and 74,592 processor cores. Additionally, its central file system will have 17 PB of usable disk space, which is 12 times more than what's available to NCAR researchers today, according to NCAR.
Moreover, that central file and data storage system will be connected to Yellowstone's data analysis and visualization resources. This feature will allow scientists to generate models and then analyze or visualize them without having to move large quantities of data between separate systems, which typically results in a performance bottleneck, according to NCAR.
At 1.6 petaflops of performance, Yellowstone will outpace NCAR's current supercomputing system, bluefire, by a factor of nearly 30. "Flop" stands for floating-point operations per second, and a petaflop computer can perform a thousand trillion flops.
Once operational, NCAR scientists plan to use Yellowstone to study atmospheric processes, engage in research about climate change, severe weather, geomagnetic storms, carbon sequestration, aviation safety and wildfires, the agency said.
"Yellowstone will provide needed computing resources to greatly improve our understanding of earth and produce significant benefits to society," said Anke Kamrath, director of operations and services for NCAR's Computational and Information Systems Laboratory (CISL), in a statement.
The federal government already runs five of the world's top 10 most powerful supercomputers, and in addition to Yellowstone is about to get another petaflop-plus system.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is building what it believes will become the world's fastest supercomputer--a system called Titan--for its Department of Energy (DOE) facility.
The lab already runs the world's third most powerful supercomputer, Jaguar, but the new system will run at 20 petaflops performance at its peak versus Jaguar's 1.75 petaflops per second performance.