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NCSA cancels its petaflop supercomputer deal with IBM

Can't meet price requirements
Tue Aug 09 2011, 12:12

THE US NCSA - National Center for Supercomputing Applications - has pulled out of its contract with IBM for a supercomputer that can sustain a petaflop.

NCSA's Blue Waters project got under way back in 2007 after the organisation selected IBM to supply it with a supercomputer that could sustain a petaflop of computing power. However the technology IBM proposed to meet those goals was "more complex and required significantly increased financial and technical support by IBM beyond its original expectations", meaning it would run over budget.

The NCSA said it tried to keep IBM's participation in the Blue Waters project alive "but could not come to a mutually agreed-on plan concerning the path forward". The NCSA said IBM will return the money it has received for the project and the NCSA will return the equipment IBM delivered.

Although the termination of IBM's contract is a blow to the NCSA's dream of having a supercomputer that can sustain a petaflop, it still believes the goal is reachable. In its statement, the organisation said, "NCSA is confident that its goal of building a sustained petascale supercomputer remains achievable in a timely manner. NCSA is coordinating with the National Science Foundation to ensure project continuity and that the goals of the project are achieved."

Back in June, the top 10 super computers in the Top 500 list all had peak performance greater than a petaflop. That raises the question of whether building a supercomputer capable of delivering a sustained petaflop is a worthy goal, given that Japan's K-Computer aims to run at 10 petaflops.

It's unlikely the NCSA will give up on its search for a petaflop machine but the fact that IBM couldn't deliver one within budget brings into question whether Big Blue can still compete at this level. Currently the firm that in many ways symbolises US computing technology is at number 10 in the Top 500 list with the ageing Roadrunner cluster. µ


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