IBM to build 3 petaflop supercomputer for Germany

On behalf of the Bavarian Academy of Science, IBM will build what may be the world's most powerful supercomputer

The global race for supercomputing power continues unabated: Germany's Bavarian Academy of Science has announced that it has contracted IBM to build a supercomputer that, when completed in 2012, will be able to execute up to 3 petaflops, potentially making it the world's most powerful supercomputer.

To be called SuperMUC, the computer, which will be run by the Academy's Leibniz Supercomputing Centre in Garching, Germany, will be available for European researchers to use to probe the frontiers of medicine, astrophysics and other scientific disciplines. (The MUC suffix is borrowed from the Munich airport code).

"With the new supercomputer, the German and European research community is getting a push to be on the forefront of international competition," said Martin Jetter, chairman of the board, IBM Germany, in a statement.

The system will use 14,000 Intel Xeon processors running in IBM System x iDataPlex servers. It will also use a new form of cooling that IBM developed, called Aquasar, that uses hot water to cool the processors, a design that should cut cooling electricity usage by 40 percent, the company claims.

"SuperMUC will provide previously unattainable energy efficiency along with peak performance by exploiting the massive parallelism of Intel's multicore processors and leveraging the innovative hot water cooling technology pioneered by IBM. This approach will allow the industry to develop ever more powerful supercomputers while keeping energy use in check," said Arndt Bode, chairman of the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre board of directors, in a statement.

Once built, the system should rank near the top of the twice-annually compiled Top500 list of world's most-powerful computers. In the most recent iteration of that list, the Chinese Tianhe-1A system benchmarked a performance of 2.67 petaflops (a petaflop is quadrillion floating-point calculations per second).

SuperMUC will have some new competition for this coveted top spot though: The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, both funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, are each building a 20 petaflop computer. Both are expected to be operational in 2012.

The German federal government and the state of Bavaria are funding the German computer, which will be part of the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) initiative to provide high-performance computing for European researchers.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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