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Big Blue's machine helps predict blue skies

IBM delivers a supercomputer based on its Deep Blue technology to a national weather research service, making further inroads into this rarefied computer market.

IBM has delivered a supercomputer based on its Deep Blue technology to a national weather research service, making further inroads into this rarefied computer market.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) took delivery today of an IBM RS/6000 SP supercomputer that will simulate global climate patterns and determine human impact on the climate, IBM said.

As their name implies, supercomputers are the most powerful computing machines in the world, and they are typically used for extremely intensive tasks such as weather forecasting or geologic modeling. They're also a crucial indicator of a country's state of computer technology.

In a recent top 500 list released by Netlib, IBM was one of the most widely use supercomputers in the world. Netlib is a data repository for the scientific computing community maintained by AT&T Bell Laboratories, the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and by engineers and scientists worldwide.

IBM supercomputers use a technique known as parallel processing while the more traditional supercomputers use a method called vector processing. Basically, parallel processing spreads computing tasks among many processors running at the same time, whereas vector processing relies on fewer, faster processors.

The new RS/6000 SP system, code-named Blackforest, is five times larger and 20 times more powerful than the original Deep Blue system which bested world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

NCAR will use Deep Blue to evaluate the effects of industrial pollutants, including greenhouse gases and other airborne chemicals. Blackforest will also help NCAR's scientists conduct atmospheric research into droughts, ozone depletion, long-range weather prediction, and global climate changes.

Last October, a similar RS/6000 SP system was installed at the National Weather Service's National Centers for Environmental Prediction in Suitland, Maryland, and will eventually run all of the nation's operational weather forecasting models.

The new RS/6000 SP system at NCAR contains 160 two-processor nodes and contains a massive 160 gigabytes of memory and 2.5 terabytes (trillion bytes) of disk space. It offers a peak speed of 204 gigaflops, more than doubling the peak capacity of NCAR's current computing center, IBM said.