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IBM, LLNL to Develop New Blue Gene Supercomputer; Commercialization to Follow

NEW YORK, Nov. 9 – IBM is partnering with the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Agency to develop Blue Gene/L, a 200-teraflop supercomputer that expands on the computer giant’s Blue Gene research project, the company announced on Friday. 

IBM and NNSA's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will jointly design Blue Gene/L, which IBM said will be 15 times faster, 15 times more power efficient, and will require about 50 times less space per computation than today's fastest supercomputers.

The technology is expected to be complete in 2005. 

This expansion of the Blue Gene project won’t detract from IBM’s original mission to build a petaflop-scale supercomputer to simulate protein folding, the company said. The two projects will progress in parallel, and the new supercomputer will be designed for a broader range of applications than Blue Gene, which is being designed as a single-purpose machine. 

IBM will continue to develop the hardware and scientific applications for Blue Gene while LLNL will focus on the broader applications that will run on Blue Gene/L, such as aging simulations, turbulence, fires, and explosions. 

The partners said they expect Blue Gene/L to be more easily adaptable to commercial applications and more affordable than current supercomputers, and IBM is actively pursuing a partner to design a companion machine to Blue Gene/L that will be targeted to business and industry. However, IBM said that any commercialization plans are long term.

IBM, of Armonk, NY, launched the Blue Gene project in 1999. At the time, the company said it did not plan to commercialize the technology. However, “as the project evolved, we realized there was an opportunity to make the architecture applicable to a broader range of applications,” said Bob Germain, a manager in the computational biology center at IBM research who heads up the science and application portion of the project.

IBM expects the Blue Gene/L architecture to reduce the power consumption, cost, and space requirements of parallel computing. Each of the machine’s tens of thousands of chips includes two processors—one for computing and one for communicating—and its own on-board memory. 

IBM and Lawrence Livermore have a long history of working together on supercomputing projects, most notably on the NNSA's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative program, for which IBM built the 7.2-teraflop "ASCI White" machine for LLNL, currently the world’s fastest supercomputer. 

Additional collaborators on the Blue Gene/L include Columbia University, the San Diego Supercomputing Center, and Caltech. 

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