IBM Reveals Tiny Powerhouse

William Pulleybank, left, director of exploratory server systems at IBM and researcher Shawn Hall work on the Blue Gene super computer at the T.J. Watson Reasearch Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., in an undated handout photo from IBM. Only an initial version of 1/128th of the Blue Gene/L supercomputer is complete, but just that segment alone can perform 2 trillion calculations a second, ranking it No. 73 on the list of the world's fastest computers.
It's only the size of a dishwasher, but it's crammed with 1,024 microprocessors, housed in an innovative slanted cabinet and can perform a whopping 2 trillion calculations per second, ranking it as one of the world's fastest supercomputers.

But this computing wonder, being shown off Friday by IBM Corp., is only 1/128th of the finished product.

When Blue Gene/L, as the supercomputer is known, is delivered to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory just over a year from now, it will easily rank as the world's fastest supercomputer. Its 130,000 processors will be able to perform up to 360 trillion calculations per second, or 360 teraflops.

The top machine now, the Earth Simulator in Japan, has 5,120 processors and can do about 35 teraflops.

And the Earth Simulator is the size of four tennis courts — eight times bigger than the projected size of Blue Gene/L, said Jack Dongarra, a University of Tennessee professor who tracks the top 500 supercomputers.

IBM revealed details of Blue Gene/L's design to coincide with the No. 73 ranking the initial segment achieved on Dongarra's latest list. IBM contends that other machines of comparable power are 20 times bigger.

Among the breakthroughs: IBM used chips that combine several supercomputer functions. Designers also slanted the machine's walls 11 degrees to speed the entry of cool air and exit of hot air, slashing the supercomputer's need for electricity-sucking air conditioning.

"Nobody had tilted the walls before," said William Pulleyblank, who heads the project for IBM.

Livermore researchers hope to use Blue Gene/L to simulate and study complex physical phenomena ranging from astronomical events to the behavior of explosives.

IBM is due to give that machine and a 100-teraflop supercomputer, ASCI Purple, to Livermore by early 2005 as part of a deal with the Department of Energy costing up to $267 million.
By Brian Bergstein