Energy Department grant spurs work on supercomputer

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a US$25 million grant to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to begin work on what will be one of the most powerful unclassified supercomputers to be used for scientific research.

In an announcement Wednesday, the DOE said the money will be used to start construction of a 50-TFLOPS supercomputer for nonclassified scientific research at the laboratory, which is in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Cray Inc., IBM Corp. and Silicon Graphics Inc. will help construct the supercomputer. The ORNL was awarded the grant over three competing proposals from other national laboratories.

Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said in a statement that the new supercomputer "will enable the Office of Science to deliver world leadership-class computing for science. It will serve to revitalize the U.S. effort in high-end computing."

The DOE had sought proposals from four national labs to improve the national research community's computing capabilities, with a focus on breakthroughs in the science disciplines supported by DOE and other federal science agencies.

The ORNL supercomputer will be housed in a new 170,000-square-foot facility that includes 400 staff members and 40,000 square feet of space for computer systems and data storage. The machines will run on 12 megawatts of power supplied by the Tennessee Valley Authority, according to the DOE.

The facility will be open to researchers from around the world for competitive, peer-reviewed work, with computing time awarded to the best proposals presented.

In addition to the $25 million grant, ORNL sought an additional $25 million for next year, as well as ongoing funding for what the lab envisions as a five-year project. If fully funded, the project would cost at least $125 million over five years and could total as much as $200 million.

The lab plans to boost its existing Cray X1 computer to 20 trillion floating-point operations per second this year, with another 20-TFLOPS Red Storm-based system from Cray added in 2005. The project could also include the addition of a 5-TFLOPS IBM Blue Gene supercomputer at the Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Ill.

With additional funding, a 100-TFLOPS Cray system is planned at Oak Ridge in 2006, with the potential to increase that computer to 250 TFLOPS in 2007.

A spokesman for the ORNL could not be reached for comment.

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