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  • Blugene
    IBM and Department of Energy’s NNSA Partner to Expand IBM's Blue Gene Research Project
    New class of supercomputers to be extended to a multitude of applications

    Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and Livermore, Calif., November 9, 2001 ... IBM today announced a partnership with the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Agency to expand IBM’s Blue Gene research project.

    IBM and NNSA’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will jointly design a new supercomputer based on the Blue Gene architecture. Called Blue Gene/L, the machine will be 15 times faster, consume 15 times less power per computation and be 50 to 100 times smaller than today’s fastest supercomputers.

    Blue Gene/L is a new member of the IBM Blue Gene family, marking a major expansion of the Blue Gene project. Blue Gene/L is expected to operate at about 200 teraflops (200 trillion operations per second) which is larger than the total computing power of the top 500 supercomputers in the world today.

    IBM will continue to build a petaflop-scale (one quadrillion operations per second) machine for a range of projects in the life sciences, originally announced in December 1999.

    This joint development will be part of the NNSA’s Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) Program. IBM has already partnered with Lawrence Livermore on the ASCI program, delivering the world’s current record-breaking supercomputer, the "ASCI White" machine now in operation at Lawrence Livermore.

    "Our initial exploration made us realize we can expand our Blue Gene project to deliver more commercially viable architectures for a broad customer set, and still accomplish our original goal of protein science simulations," said Mark Dean, vice president of systems, IBM Research. "Partnering with Lawrence Livermore is a key part of our strategy, as they bring important application and design expertise to the project."

    Researchers at the national laboratories plan to use Blue Gene/L, which is expected to be completed by 2005, to simulate physical phenomena of national interest -- such as aging of materials, fires, and explosions -- that require computational capability much greater than presently available.

    "This represents a new thrust, very different from the approach taken by the main line of ASCI machines. Up until now, ASCI supercomputers have been designed to address the entire spectrum of numerical simulations required of the of stockpile stewardship effort," said David Nowak, ASCI Program Leader at LLNL. "This new Blue Gene/L innovation can address an important subset of those computational problems, those that can be easily divided to run on many tens of thousands of processors."

    "Examples of those applications include the modeling of the aging and properties of materials, and the modeling of turbulence," added Nowak. "This technology opens the door to a number of applications of great interest to civilian industry and business, like biology and other life sciences. The future of US high-performance computing will benefit tremendously from pursuing both of these paths in parallel."

    The architecture for Blue Gene/L is expected to be more easily adaptable to commercial applications, and promises to be more affordable to business users than the leading-edge supercomputers found at national laboratories. This new approach to supercomputing promises to make the dramatic reductions in power consumption, cost and space requirements needed to turn massively parallel computing into a practical tool for business and industry. As part of the expansion of the Blue Gene project, IBM is actively pursuing a partner to design a companion machine to Blue Gene/L targeted to data-intensive applications commonly found in commercial computing.

    New Architecture for Supercomputers -- Not Just For Scientists Anymore
    While today’s machines are amazingly fast number crunchers, many data-intensive applications are slowed because of the time it takes to simply access information from the memory chips. The Blue Gene/L design will run these applications much faster because the machine will be populated with data-chip cells optimized for data access. Each chip includes two processors: one for computing and one for communicating, and its own on-board memory. Each of the data-chip cells will work on a small part of a larger problem. This increase in data access speed will make a huge difference in the kinds of results these machines can produce and the kinds of problems they can solve.

    "Machines like Blue Gene/L are designed to handle data-intensive applications like content distribution, simulations, and modeling, webserving, data mining or business intelligence," added Dean.

    NNSA’s Bill Reed, ASCI’s national program leader, lists an impressive array of projects that can make use of this new approach and cites "the continuing need for cost-effective computing to address important national security issues. We need to run these problems in days not months and we need to simultaneously support many scientists across all three NNSA laboratories working on a broad spectrum of technical issues. The value to both national security programs and commercial interests can be dramatic, especially in the biological sciences and medical and pharmaceutical fields."

    IBM and Lawrence Livermore will team up to explore the hardware and software components needed to construct this new computing architecture, and Livermore will provide additional design expertise for the applications that can take advantage of the Blue Gene/L machine.

    Lawrence Livermore will get help on the Blue Gene/L project from collaborators at the DOE’s NNSA, Columbia University, San Diego Supercomputing Center, and Caltech.

    ASCI Partnerships
    The ASCI Program at Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia National Laboratories has been partnering with the supercomputing industry for the past five years in developing a series of supercomputers for NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program. This latest effort continues to build on that experience to help enable the US to maintain its nuclear stockpile without underground nuclear testing and make unprecedented contributions to many fields of science that rely heavily on computing and simulation. ASCI’s goal is not just to increase the speed of high-performance computing but also to allow scientists to accept challenges that they could not have attempted before the advent of teraflops-scale computers and beyond.

    About IBM's Research Division
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    Excerpts from original press release:

    IBM Announces $100 Million Research Initiative to build World's Fastest Supercomputer

    "Blue Gene" to Tackle Protein Folding Grand Challenge

    YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, NY, December 6, 1999 -- IBM today announced a new $100 million exploratory research initiative to build a supercomputer 500 times more powerful than the world’s fastest computers today.

    The new computer -- nicknamed "Blue Gene" by IBM researchers -- will be capable of more than one quadrillion operations per second (one petaflop). This level of performance will make Blue Gene 1,000 times more powerful than the Deep Blue machine that beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, and about 2 million times more powerful than today's top desktop PCs.

    Blue Gene's massive computing power will initially be used to model the folding of human proteins, making this fundamental study of biology the company's first computing "grand challenge" since the Deep Blue experiment. Learning more about how proteins fold is expected to give medical researchers better understanding of diseases, as well as potential cures.

    "This is exactly what IBM Research does best -- continuously placing big, aggressive bets on technologies that change the future of computing," said Dr. Paul M. Horn, senior vice president of IBM Research. "In many ways, Deep Blue got a better job today -- if this computer unlocks the mystery of how proteins fold, it will be an important milestone in the future of medicine and healthcare."

    Protein Folding Holds Key to Understanding Basics of Life
    The scientific community considers protein folding one of the most significant "grand challenges" -- a fundamental problem in science or engineering that has broad economic and scientific impact and whose solution can be advanced only by applying high-performance computing technologies.

    Proteins control all cellular processes in the human body. Comprising strings of amino acids that are joined like links of a chain, a protein folds into a highly complex, three-dimensional shape that determines its function. Any change in shape dramatically alters the function of a protein, and even the slightest change in the folding process can turn a desirable protein into a disease.

    Better understanding of how proteins fold will give scientists and doctors better insight into diseases and ways to combat them. Pharmaceutical companies could design high-tech prescription drugs customized to the specific needs of individual people. And doctors could respond more rapidly to changes in bacteria and viruses that cause them to become drug-resistant.

    "Breakthroughs in computers and information technology are now creating new frontiers in biology," said Horn. "One day, you're going to be able to walk into a doctor's office and have a computer analyze a tissue sample, identify the pathogen that ails you, and then instantly prescribe a treatment best suited to your specific illness and individual genetic makeup."

    IBM Research
    About 50 scientists from IBM Research's Deep Computing Institute and Computational Biology Group will work on Blue Gene and the protein folding grand challenge. IBM Research is the world's largest research organization dedicated to information technology, with eight labs around the world, including Austin, Beijing, Delhi, Haifa, Tokyo, San Jose, Yorktown Heights (New York), and Zurich. IBM Research works closely with the company's Life Sciences Unit, which was formed earlier this year to deliver information technology services and solutions to advance the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and agri-science industries.

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