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By Samuel R. Avro on Feb 9, 2009 with no responses

IBM to Build World’s Most Powerful Supercomputer for Energy Dept.

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The world’s most powerful supercomputer, which will compute at astounding record-breaking speeds, is being constructed for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where it will assist scientists in judging the safety and reliability of the US nuclear weapons stockpile without doing live tests.

IBM's headquarters in Armonk, New York.

IBM was awarded a contract by the U.S. government to build a supercomputer capable of performing at 20 petaflops (1 petaflop equals 1 thousand trillion floating-point operations per second), twenty times faster than the current record holder, and more powerful than all of the systems on the top 500 supercomputer list combined.

The beast of a machine, dubbed Sequoia, will occupy 3,422 square feet of space – roughly the equivalent of a large sized house, though IMB claims that it will operate at a highly energy-efficient level considering the job it does.

The Sequoia will be built along with another, but smaller computer, called the Dawn, for the Energy Department in IBM’s Blue Gene facilities in Rochester, Minnesota.

Sequoia will be used for simulating nuclear tests by the US Department of Energy at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, based in Livermore, California. Supercomputers are necessary for this task, as it allows scientists judge the safety and reliability of the US nuclear weapons stockpile without doing live tests.

The Columbia Supercomputer at NASA's Advanced Supercomputing Facility at Ames Research Center.

The world’s 3rd fastest supercomputer recently went on line at nearby Moffet Field in Mountain View, Calif. Installed at NASA’s Advanced Supercomputing facility and known as the Pleiades, the supercomputer will assist space shuttle researchers in returning to the moon again.

The Linux-based Sequoia system will use approximately 1.6 million IBM Power processors. IBM is still developing a 45-nanometer chip for the system and may produce a processor with eight, 16 or more cores. The system will have 1.6TB of memory and will be housed in 96 refrigerator-size racks.

The Sequoia will also compute difficult research equations into astronomy, energy, human genome science and climate change, the Armonk, N.Y.-based company said in a press release.

The Dawn system is expected to be delivered later this year, and will be used to prepare researchers for the larger Sequoia system which is slated for delivery in 2011.

To imagine how fast 20 petaflops actually is, the company gave a couple of examples: