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Sun knocked out of DARPA supercomputer project

IBM and Cray each get multimillion-dollar awards to keep working on completing supercomputers, but Sun is left out of the running.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will continue to fund petaflop-class supercomputer projects at Cray and IBM, but Sun Microsystems is out of the running.

DARPA, which funds computing and technological projects for the military, will give $250 million to Cray and $244 million to IBM, the companies said Tuesday. The funding will help them complete supercomputers capable of churning 10 quadrillion floating-point operations per second, or 10 petaflops. These computers will be used to simulate global climate changes or the spread of hypothetical epidemics.

Ultimately, DARPA hopes the program will result in a new generation of supercomputers by 2010.

The program started early in the decade when NEC's Earth Simulator was the most powerful computer on the planet, and some feared that the U.S. might lose its technical superiority in supercomputing. Inventions and ideas embodied in these machines often end up trickling down to servers and eventually PCs.

This is a great day for Cray and the worldwide supercomputing community," said Peter Ungaro, Cray's president and CEO in a prepared statement.

DARPA, however, will no longer continue to fund the supercomputing project from Sun. It wasn't for lack of trying. Sun was trying to incorporate a number of innovative technologies into its supercomputer, such as proximity communication, which allows chips to communicate without wires.

Both Cray and IBM, however, have much more extensive histories in supercomputing. IBM's computers currently sit atop the supercomputer performance tables. Big Blue is also engaged in a wide variety of processor, communication and memory projects that it believes will boost supercomputers. At the University of Texas, for instance, IBM is trying to develop a chip that will churn one trillion calculations a second.