November 5, 2004 6:49 AM PST

IBM set to take supercomputing crown

IBM's Blue Gene/L became the top contender to the supercomputing throne Thursday, when Big Blue announced that a new incarnation of the machine can perform 70.7 trillion calculations per second.

The speed of 70.7 teraflops, as expected, puts Blue Gene/L well ahead of the 42.7 teraflops Silicon Graphics Inc. announced in October for its Columbia system, as well as the 51.9 teraflops that the full Columbia configuration is expected to be able to reach. The companies are vying for the top spot in a list of the world's 500 fastest supercomputers. The list will be updated Monday.

In addition, the new speed definitively bested a Japanese system, NEC's Earth Simulator, that has led the Top500 list for two years. The Blue Gene/L lead could increase when the system quadruples in size from its current configuration with 16 racks and more than 16,000 dual-core processors. The improvement will be made by May, IBM says.

The U.S. Energy Department, which is paying for the machine through its Advanced Simulation and Computing program, said the system will boost research in the United States.

"The delivery of the first quarter of the BlueGene/L system to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory this month shows how a partnership between government and industry can effectively advance national agendas in science, technology, security and industrial competitiveness,? Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said in a statement.

Livermore will use the system for materials science simulations, said Lynn Kissel, deputy director of the lab's Advanced Simulation and Computing program. Compared with current technology, Blue Gene/L will make simulations possible with roughly 1,000 times as many atoms--enough that the simulations can be compared with real-world experiments.

The list to be revealed Monday represents one of the twice-yearly updates to the Top500 list; the new list will be unveiled at the SC2004 show in Pittsburgh. The long domination of the NEC machine had raised some concerns among government officials that the United States was losing its supercomputing edge. IBM tried to allay those concerns when an earlier incarnation of Blue Gene/L edged past Earth Simulator in September.

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