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Supercomputer predicts Big Blue skies

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts taps IBM to build the world's most powerful weather-predicting computer.

Apparently, you not only need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, you need one who's got an IBM supercomputer. At least the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts seems to think so.

The center announced Friday that it has tapped Big Blue to build the world's most powerful weather supercomputer, dubbed Blue Storm.

"Today's highly sophisticated numerical models of the world's atmosphere and oceans require the most powerful supercomputing resources," Dr. David Burridge, director of ECMWF, said in a statement.

The ECMWF provides meteorological information to national weather services that offer daily forecasts and provide warnings and other services to government and commercial customers. As a result, Blue Storm could help businesses more safely and efficiently route ships at sea or more accurately predict demand for utilities like electricity.

The new supercomputer will be delivered in two stages, starting next year. The first stage will be able to perform seven trillion calculations per second (7 teraflops). A second stage, planned for 2004, will boost performance to 23 teraflops. The computer, by 2004, is expected to have about 1.4 petabytes of storage available. That's close to the storage capacity of approximately 24,000 desktop PCs.

Once finished, Blue Storm will be made up of about 100 of IBM's newest eServer p690 servers, sometimes referred to by the code name "Regatta." The total price of the machine was not disclosed, though the servers, which will make up a large portion of the cost, start at about $400,000 each.

Blue Storm will roughly double the performance of the fastest supercomputer, IBM's ASCII White, which delivers 12.3 teraflops of performance.

Blue Storm is one of several new supercomputer projects that use the eServer P690, which began shipping earlier this month. It also follows the announcement of Blue Sky, a supercomputer to be used by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) for climate modeling.

IBM has plans for even faster supercomputers, such as its BlueGene, which will be applied to research into how proteins are created.