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IBM wins academic oil research deal

The University of Texas has purchased about 4 tons worth of IBM supercomputer for a project to model how oil and gas flow beneath the surface of the Earth, Big Blue says.

The University of Texas bought about 4 tons worth of IBM supercomputer for a project to model how oil and gas flow beneath the surface of the earth, Big Blue said Friday.

The system consists of 32 p655 Unix servers, each with four Power4 processors, and a single 32-processor p690. The list price for that equipment is more than $6 million, though the university got a discount, IBM said.

IBM competes in the supercomputer market with established companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and newer arrival Dell Computer. In 2002, Big Blue rapidly grew to second place in the high-performance technical computing market, nearly catching up to HP's No. 1 spot.

The systems, to be installed at the university's Texas Advanced Computing Center, will more than triple the power of an existing IBM Power4 system, the university said in a statement.

One project for which the systems will be used is simulations of how fluids flow in the earth's interior. The research applies to oil and gas extraction as well as to underground water aquifers. The systems also will support research into astrophysics, chemistry, biology and aerospace engineering.

The p655s are linked with a high-speed switch to form a supercomputing cluster. Typically, when a big system such as the 32-processor p690 is thrown into the mix, it's used to house a large database of information the computers in the cluster draw upon, said Jim McGaughan, director of IBM eServer product marketing.

A total of 16 p655s can fit into a single rack 24 inches wide--the same width as IBM's top-end Unix servers but somewhat wider than the 19-inch width used in standard rack-mounted servers. A 16-system collection of p655s weighs about 3,600 pounds.

The servers run IBM's version of Unix, called AIX. That operating system is entangled in a lawsuit filed earlier this month against IBM by SCO Group, holder of the Unix intellectual property originally created by AT&T. SCO Group threatened to revoke IBM's license to ship Unix, but IBM argues it has a perpetual Unix license.