Ottawa unveils $430 million supercomputer for weather forecasts

Canada just upgraded its weather-prediction capabilities with some new supercomputer systems delivered by Shared Services Canada.

Minister of Public Services and Procurement Carla Qualtrough visited the Canadian Meteorological Centre in Dorval, Que. to unveil the new High Performance Computing (HPC) system. Billed as the fastest computers owned by the federal government, the systems will be dedicated to high accuracy weather forecasting. Environment Canada is the authoritative source for critical weather warnings that are syndicated by major telecommunications firms, broadcasters, and other information sources across the country.

Other departments will benefit from the HPC’s capabilities too, according to Shared Services. For example, Health Canada will have better air quality test data, Fisheries and Oceans Canada will get better ocean modelling, and Public Safety Canada gets better support for environmental emergency prevention.

Environment Canada researchers got a hands-test with the new supercomputer in the summer of 2016 and produced a report on its capabilities. The specs laid out in the document include a maximum of 28,440 cores available. Analysis shows that scaling the computations done for global forecasting would shave time off a number of different tasks.

A CBC report on the new supercomputer published in December found IBM Canada won the contract to provide the new supercomputer. The value of the contract, listed on the Open Government portal, is more than $430 million. Its contract start date was May 27, 2016 and the end date is slated for June 30, 2024.

“This contract was competitively sourced,” state comments on the record. “This contract is a multi-year-contract.”

According to CBC, the supercomputer replaces another IBM supercomputer that’s as large as two tennis courts. Shared Services Canada is leasing the new computer for 8.5 years with an option to renew for another 2.5 years.

Shared Services Canada says the new supercomputer “have extraordinary capability to process large-scale simulations, such as the modelling of complex weather systems, including the behaviour of major storms and their effect on the environment.”

The new supercomputers were named for late Canadian scientists:

  • Harriet Brooks was Canada’s first female nuclear physicist and worked with Marie Curie, contributing to research on radon gas. She died in 1933.
  • Kenneth Hare was a Canadian environmental science advocate and warned about carbon-driven climate change before many others were paying attention. He died in 2002.


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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Former editorial director of IT World Canada. Current research director at Info-Tech

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