Compaq wins 'fastest' supercomputer deal from DOE

The $US200 million plus contract will require Compaq to provide a 30 trillion operations-per-second (30 teraops) system codenamed "Q." The computer will be used by the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to test the reliability of nuclear weapons without the use of underground nuclear testing.

The supercomputer is part of the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) within the NNSA's Stockpile Stewardship Program. The new computer will be housed at the new Strategic Computing Complex at the NNSA's Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

ASCI Q will consist of 375 AlphaServer GS320 systems that will hold 11,968 Alpha processors. The processors will have EV68 CPUs (central processing units) running in excess of 1,250MHz on Compaq's Tru64 Unix operating system.

The computer will require more than 21,000 square feet of space and will be coupled together with more than 6,000 fiber and copper cables. ASCI Q will offer in excess of 600T bytes of hard disk storage - enough to store the US Library of Congress 20 times over - 12T bytes of main memory, and will receive round-the-clock service and support, according to Compaq.

Jesse Lipcon, vice president of Compaq's Alpha Technology group, said Compaq will begin building the massive system in September and hopes to have it all operational by 2002.

Lipcon said the supercomputer will take several megawatts of power to run, but will give the computing power equivalent to 21 of the fastest supercomputers available now. Compaq is contracted to be able to upgrade the system to 100 trillion floating operations per second (100 teraops) by 2004.

If you put every man, woman and child on earth together and ask them to conduct 5,000 calculations per second, that would be equivalent to ASCI Q's computation power, Lipcon said. Compaq has been focusing its whole high-performance computing program on working on US government supercomputing initiatives and such a strategy has paid off, he added.

IBM's ASCI White supercomputer held the speed record prior to Compaq's announcement. The IBM computer, which will be fully operational later this year, is capable of 12.3 trillion operations per second. Lipcon suggested that Compaq's ASCI Q will be two to three times faster at theoretical teraflops than ASCI White.

Through its acquisition of Digital Equipment in June 1998, Compaq netted Digital's Alpha server unit and the Digital Unix operating system, which Compaq later renamed Tru64 Unix. Compaq also bought Tandem Computers for $US3 billion, which gave Compaq greater access to the enterprise computing market.

Compaq has said recently that it wants to be viewed a full-computer provider from home computers to supercomputers, Lipcon said. Compaq has sold approximately a dozen supercomputers, such as a recently awarded contract to build a $US36 million supercomputer with 2,728 Alpha processors for the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. Three of Compaq's supercomputers are being used for work on the human genome project.

According to figures from market research company IDC, Compaq ranked second in the technical systems and server market in 1999, in second position behind Hewlett-Packard. The market consists of sales of systems that cost more than $US10,000. Compaq held a 19.6 percent share in revenue terms of the $5.6 billion market compared to 20.8 percent for HP, IDC found.

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James Evans

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