IBM nets its biggest supercomputer deal yet

IBM Corp. on Friday signed what it called its biggest supercomputer deal in its history, valued at more than US$200 million over nine years, for a system it will never physically deliver to the customer.

The entire supercomputer, which the U.S. government’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) will use for predicting weather, will stay at IBM’s e-business hosting center in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Its processing power and storage will be delivered to the agency via a high-speed network, according to an IBM statement.

IBM will deliver the supercomputer in stages, and by 2009 the system will perform at a rate of more than 100 teraflops, or 100 trillion operations per second. The company, in Armonk, New York, beat out other U.S. and Japanese supercomputer vendors to land the contract, the statement said.

The first phase will be a cluster of 44 IBM eServer p690 servers with 42 terabytes of storage using IBM TotalStorage FastT500 Storage Server disk storage. That system will have a peak speed of 7.3 teraflops.

The supercomputer will provide the agency more computing power to make its weather forecasts more accurate. Those forecasts form the basis of television and radio weather reports as well as being used for agriculture, disaster response and other applications, according to IBM.

The NCEP, a department of the National Weather Service, will make use of the supercomputer from a few different campuses around the Washington, D.C., area. Housing it at IBM’s facility saves the agency from having to build the kind of computer room the system requires, said IBM vice president Peter Ungaro. IBM already has room for the system, which will be roughly the size of a basketball court, at its Gaithersburg hosting center.

Under the contract, the supercomputer is scheduled to be upgraded every year or two, partly with the same technology used in the first phase but also with technology not yet developed, Ungaro said. The contract also includes two years of support after the system is completed.

“They thought they couldn’t just get the best supercomputer today for their job, but the best one going out a few years,” he said.

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