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Supercomputing: Eye of the Storm: Compaq, Celera Out, Sandia Moves on with Cray


The Red Storm has passed quietly over Celera’s radar screen. Sandia National Laboratories recently terminated a cooperative research and development agreement it signed in January 2001 with the company to build a petaflop-scale supercomputer. Compaq, “a major partner” but not an official signee of the CRADA, has also withdrawn from the project. Instead, the DOE lab has entered negotiations with Cray for a $90 million contract to build, install, and support the so-called Red Storm supercomputer, which was originally envisioned as a massively parallel system that would scale up to 10 teraflops by 2002, 100 teraflops by 2004, and eventually a petaflop.

The collaboration between Celera, Compaq, and Sandia was ushered in with typical pre-genome hoopla last January. But that was before Compaq announced its plans to phase out the Alpha chip, while its merger with Hewlett-Packard was still a twinkle in Carly Fiorina’s eye, and Celera was riding high on the promise of its data-centric business model.

With two-thirds of the project’s players barely recognizable a year and a half later, it seems inevitable that the collaboration came to an end.

Citing these changes as the basis for terminating the deal, Sandia’s Grant Heffelfinger notes that “the vision that was in the CRADA, and Sandia’s interest in that vision, is not diminished, nor has it changed. We’re simply not pursuing it with Celera.”

Celera spokesman Robert Bennett agreed that the company’s rapid evolution over the last year bumped the CRADA off its to-do list. “We felt we both got out of it what we could, and at this point our needs are really divergent beyond what that exchange covered,” he says.

When Sandia issued a competitive call for proposals for the Red Storm procurement, Cray won out over a number of undisclosed competing vendors.

Heffelfinger noted that Sandia’s work with Celera — short-lived as it was — only served to whet the lab’s appetite for life sciences computing. In addition to a commitment to recruit a new biological partner for the Red Storm project, the lab is setting its sights on the computational infrastructure that will be put in place for the DOE’s Genomes to Life program. Heffelfinger is the principal investigator on a $6 million joint Sandia/Oak Ridge National Lab GTL grant to build the computational capabilities to study carbon sequestration in the marine bacterium Synechococcus.

— Bernadette Toner


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