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IBM, Cray, Sun win supercomputer grants

The tech companies nab awards totaling more than $146 million from the U.S. Defense Department to create new supercomputers by the end of the decade.

The U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday awarded grants totaling more than $146 million to Cray, IBM and Sun Microsystems for work to create supercomputers by the end of the decade.

The grants, from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), are part of a program to ensure the United States has competitive supercomputers for military, intelligence-gathering and industrial purposes, the agency said in a statement.

NEC's Earth Simulator supercomputer in Japan alarmed the U.S. government when it took the No. 1 position in a recent list of the 500 fastest supercomputers.

DARPA's grants marked phase two of its High Productivity Computing Systems (HPCS) program to create a new generation of high-performance technical computers by 2009 or 2010. The first phase evaluated several approaches to building new computers; the second funds three-year research and development plans; the third phase is a four-year, full-scale engineering and development effort.

IBM has been working hard on displacing Hewlett-Packard as the top seller of high-performance computers. The U.S. government is one of Big Blue's biggest customers for such systems. Meanwhile, Sun is working to elevate its high-performance computing program, and Cray hopes its new X-1 computer will convince buyers that supercomputer specialists can compete with general-purpose computer makers.

Three phase-two winners were announced Tuesday:

•  IBM received $53.3 million for its PERCS (Productive, Easy-to-use, Reliable Computing Systems) program to design computers that can be adapted to many different types of work.

•  Sun Microsystems received $49.7 million for its Hero program to boost productivity through use of simpler, tightly integrated computer designs and new programming tools.

•  Cray, in combination with New Technology Endeavors, received $43.1 million for work in areas such as boosting memory performance by incorporating processors within memory system and building high-speed, low-delay networks.