IBM, Cray win US supercomputer contracts

Vendors win big deals

IBM and Cray have beat out Sun Microsystems to win major US government contracts to design a new generation supercomputer.

The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded the two companies four-year contracts to design a supercomputer that will be 100 times more powerful than today’s most powerful systems, but simpler to programme, administer and use.

Cray’s contract is valued at US$250 million (NZ$373 million) and IBM’s is worth US$244 million. Each company is expected to have a prototype supercomputer ready by 2010.

The contracts were awarded as part of DARPA’s High Productivity Computing Systems (HPCS) programme, which is targeted at the national security community and the science and industrial sectors.

Launched in 2002, its goal is to develop a system capable of performing calculations at the rate of two to four petaflops per second. A petaflop is one quadrillion (one thousand trillion) calculations per second.

The fastest supercomputer in operation today, an IBM BlueGene system, operates at 360 teraflops, or 360 trillion calculations per second.

Sun Microsystems, which had been funded in earlier rounds of the contract, lost out on the latest round.

However, the company still plans to integrate the technology it had been developing into its product lines, a Sun spokeswoman says.

Besides developing prototypes of the supercomputers, IBM and Cray are also tasked with building programming tools that speed the time it takes to write applications ten-fold compared with what was possible when the HPCS programme began.

DARPA says the ultimate goal of the project is to create a new generation of economically viable high productivity computing systems that can be sold to national security and high-end industrial users. US federal agencies likely to use the supercomputers will include the National Security Agency, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Agency.

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