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11/22/2006
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Defense Agency Aims For Supercomputers That Can Predict Climate Change

IBM and Cray won contracts worth $244 million and $250 million, respectively, to build the next generation of supercomputers for Darpa.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency has tapped IBM and Cray Inc. to build the next generation of supercomputers that could be used to accurately predict changes in earth's climate, model entire biological systems, and perform other tasks that are beyond current, state-of-the-art machines.

The four-year contracts are worth $244 million and $250 million to IBM and Cray, respectively. The awards kick off Phase III of an existing Darpa initiative to develop supercomputers.

IBM says it will use the funds to build commercially practical supercomputers that cross the petascale barrier -- a measure of compute performance that's equal to a thousand trillion calculations per second. IBM says reaching that goal requires more than a simple focus on processors. The company plans research into system architectures, application programming styles, and operating system requirements for day-to-day petascale computing.

At the product level, that translates into research into ways in which future generations of IBM's Power processors, AIX operating system, General Parallel File system, and interconnect and storage subsystems can be adapted to work together to support petascale performance. "These Darpa initiatives will propel IBM to far exceed the traditional 2X performance improvement over 18 months," said Ravi Arimilli, IBM's Power7 principal investigator, in a statement.

Cray says it plans to use the Darpa award to boost efforts around its Cascade high-performance computing project. Under Cascade, Cray is looking at new, hybrid system architectures that combine multiple processor technologies, high-performance networks, and an adaptive software layer that pulls all the components into a single, integrated system.

Darpa funding is behind numerous, key breakthroughs in the computer industry, from "the evolution of the Internet to the development of VLSI technology," said Steve Scott, Cray's chief technology officer, in a statement. As part of its efforts, Cray will use processor and interconnect technologies from Advanced Micro Devices.

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