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Thu, Aug 23, 2001 - Page 21 News List

IBM to cooperate with top lab on computer software


International Business Machines Corp, which is building a computer capable of 1 quadrillion calculations per second, will work with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to create software for the new machine.

Terms weren't disclosed. IBM, the largest computer maker, and the US Department of Energy, which oversees the Tennessee lab, will both invest in the effort under a one-year renewable contract. Scientists will focus on programming to operate the supercomputer for studies of genetics, climate patterns and the behavior of subatomic particles, said David McQueeney, an IBM Research vice president.

IBM is hoping its five-year, US$100 million supercomputer project called "Blue Gene" will one day help scientists and corporations handle the massive calculations needed to create complex models. Applications range from the three-dimensional folding of proteins for drug research to stock portfolio management or finding the optimum route schedule for an airline.

"Oak Ridge has scientific expertise that's above and beyond what we have," McQueeney said in an interview. The lab's atomic research has given it "a lot of experience" in using mathematics-based coding to create sophisticated computer models.

A working prototype of IBM's "Blue Gene" supercomputer is expected in 2005. Creating software to operate the machine is the project's greatest challenge, McQueeney said.

IBM already is working with the scientists at Columbia, Indiana and Stanford Universities and the University of Pennsylvania on aspects of Blue Gene, he said. The company believes Blue Gene will allow computer performance to leap from about 1 trillion calculations per second today to 1,000 times as many, or 1 quadrillion.

"We want to push that up into the hundreds of thousands or millions," McQueeney said.

Blue Gene will use what IBM calls a "cellular" design.

Unlike today's computers, where a central processor interacts with surrounding memory and communications circuitry, the new machine will run on chips containing "cells" where tiny processors are integrated directly with memory and communications circuits. The aim is to speed the flow of data and process it quickly.

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