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IBM Supercomputing Hardware

Award of $200M Supercomputer To IBM Proving Controversial 114

Posted by Zonk
from the bidding-is-just-another-super-element dept.
An anonymous reader writes "According to documents accidentally placed on a federal government Web site for a short time last week the national science foundation (NSF) will award the contract to buy a $200M supercomputer in 2011 to IBM. The machine is designed to perform scientific calculations at sustained speed of 1 petaflop. The award is already proving controversial however, with questions being raised about the correctness of the bidding procedure. Similar concerns have also been raised about the award of a smaller machine to Oak Ridge national lab, which is a Department of Energy laboratory, not a site one would expect to house an NSF machine."
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Award of $200M Supercomputer To IBM Proving Controversial

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  • Because... (Score:5, Funny)

    by mr_beanz (677482) on Monday August 06, 2007 @01:51AM (#20127423)
    No-one ever got fired for buying IBM!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 06, 2007 @02:16AM (#20127513)
    ...to stop Zonk from posting boring, pointless articles?

    I'd prefer if HAL didn't open the pod bay doors, if Zonk were out there.
  • The DOE bit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StealthyRoid (1019620) on Monday August 06, 2007 @02:26AM (#20127559) Homepage
    I don't know that having one of the machines at Oak Ridge is that big of a deal. One simple explanation is that the NSF is going to share time on the mainframe with the DoE, and in exchange, the DoE foots the energy bills and finds a place to put it. I'd rather have the agencies sharing multi-million dollar computers than buying them and not using them to capacity.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mako1138 (837520)
      Most of the major research labs in the US are technically owned by the DOE, whether they're primarily weapons/classified research (Livermore, Los Alamos) or closely linked to academia (Berkeley, Fermilab).

      The DOE and the NSF fund various projects (with some subject area overlap) but it's still up to individual scientists to write proposals asking for supercomputer time.
    • The thing about DOE is that their primary business is nukes. They are in charge not only of all the nuclear power plants nation wide, but they also have a lot to do with our nuclear weapons. The oakridge facility is a main hub of this research, tracing back to the manhattan project. Therefore, a super computer makes sense, as nuclear physics is some pretty super-computery stuff.
    • Oak Ridge is not just DOE, it is a research center for many universities, including Georgia Tech and University of Tennessee to name a few. I for one have run computational genetics code on the supercomputer cluster at Oak Ridge as a Tech student, which was funded by a NSF grant. Therefore, NSF at Oak Ridge labs is nothing new or something to be surprised about.
    • by xcjohn (64581)
      This is a HUGE deal and, frankly, rather selfish of a DOE lab. There are a handful of non-DOE national labs out there that are struggling (I mean, very very close to closing doors) that needed this round of funding. Places like NCSA, PSC, SDSC. They're all shit outta luck now, cept for those NCSA jerks. Funny how NCSA suddenly got interested in very big iron when they've been keeping the mid-sized machines for the past decade..
  • by siyavash (677724) on Monday August 06, 2007 @02:31AM (#20127583) Journal
    The question is why not IBM? Who else can beat it (BlueGene) at that price? Seems like a pretty good deal to me. Although, government procedures are never optimal. Free market works far better and far more efficient.
    • The summary is misleading. RTFA. The real issue here as academic prestige via the selection site. This has nothing to do with the selection of IBM. Mascarading under the cloak of "California" and "Pennsylvania", I'd guess we actually have a couple of ugly stepsisters in the form of the supercomputing facilities (and the universities themselves) at UC Berkeley and Carnegie-Mellon. They seem to be shocked and somewhat put out that one of them was not selcted (instead of NCSA/UIUC). So the response now is to t
      • by GPSguy (62002)
        Totally agree. The real bruha here was that NCSA got the award and CMU/UCSD/PSCC didn't. And worse, that they found out by web-scraping the NSB agenda rather than having the program manager call 'em and tell 'em.

        Teragrid and petascale computing have always been closed games, with the price of admission being to either fund yourself (have your home institution) into a position to be recognized, or, when NSF suddenly realizes they're not looking to diversify the playing field but are always funding the same
      • by xcjohn (64581)
        I honestly haven't heard of anyone crying foul over NCSA getting their cake. Yes, it really really sucks that PSC and SDSC didn't (we were quite shocked), but it's that ORNL got track2 that digs you to the bone. Do you honestly think ORNL thought they'd get it? I bet there were as shocked as any of us about that. Yes, I'm whining about greed, the DOE has the deepest pockets, there's no need to go after NSF money. My sincere congratulations to NCSA, any number of other sites could have bid PERCS, but th
    • One Hundred NVidia 8800 GTX Graphic Cards can achieve 3 petaflops for a insignificant cost.
  • petaflop? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 06, 2007 @02:44AM (#20127635)
    1 Petaflop?

    Were any animal rights activists harmed in the design or manufacture of this computer?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 06, 2007 @03:44AM (#20127863)
      I hope so.

      I just get so mad at them when they try to tell me not to eat animals. If god didn't want us to eat animals, why did he make them taste like meat? If he wanted us to eat only vegetables, Wouldn't he make them taste like meat too?
      • If [God] wanted us to eat only vegetables, Wouldn't he make them taste like meat too?

        Tofu [wikipedia.org]. Tempeh [wikipedia.org]. Veggie burgers [wikipedia.org]. God gave man the ability to invent vegetable substitutes for meat [wikipedia.org].

        • by db32 (862117)
          I cannot believe you are calling tofu a meat substitute of any form or fashion. I'm not sure if you have never had tofu or never had meat, but you have never had one of them.
          "tempeh was referred as 'Javanese meat', and sometimes it was used as a way to bully javanese." Right from your link this line about how calling it Javanese meat was meant to insult javanese people. (If this is not what this sentence was intended to mean someone needs to be shot because the full sentence is rather broken)
          I will give
      • by ImaLamer (260199)
        Frankly, I'm a vegetarian - not because I love animals - but because I hate vegetables.
  • Horrible Writing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bendodge (998616) <.moc.sremmargorpgsb. .ta. .egdodneb.> on Monday August 06, 2007 @02:50AM (#20127661) Homepage Journal
    "According to documents accidentally placed on a federal government Web site for a short time last week (a punctuation mark maybe?) the national science foundation (NSF) will award the contract to buy a $200M supercomputer in 2011 to IBM. The machine is designed to perform scientific calculations at sustained speed(s?) of 1 petaflop. The award is already proving controversial however, with questions being raised about the correctness of the bidding procedure. Similar concerns have also been raised about the award of a smaller machine to Oak Ridge national lab, which is a Department of energy laboratory, not a site one would expect to house an NSF machine."

    Come on editors!
  • by RobertM1968 (951074) on Monday August 06, 2007 @02:50AM (#20127667) Homepage Journal

    If the government was interested in a machine from a company who has consistently shown it knows how to build these things, then who else would they choose?

    IBM has consistently dominated the fastest supercomputer list:

    http://www.top500.org/

    And as for it's location... why would the government want to keep putting all their eggs in the same basket? Also, it's not like you need a keyboard and mouse and operator directly attached to this machine... so housing it elsewhere in a facility that can house it makes sense.

    Sounds more like a bunch of people grumbling that they arent going to have access to what they thought would be their newest toy. In addition, it indicates possible collaboration between the DOE and NSA which should only be a good thing.

    • Well, it makes sense that the DOE has access to it. They are after all running intensive computer models on all sorts of stuff from global warming to weather patterns and energy scenarios. They are working with the NSF on Carbon numbers and stuff.

      This might be what saves the world. LOL
      • by megaditto (982598)
        If DOE wants access to it, they should pay for that access. Given how little money pure science already receives from the government, handing over this computer to nuke research would be little short of treason.
        • by sumdumass (711423)
          The DOE does more then Nuke research. They are behind the official US responses to global warming or what ever the name of the month is.

          The DOE is probably more science oriented the the NSF in some ways. When you put the NASA elements into consideration anyway. There are many faces to the Department of energy. Just like the military which wil get it's hands into everything, so does the DOE.
          • by megaditto (982598)
            Let's see how much each one gets each year:

            DoD: 400 bil. US$ (not including the Iraq war costs, read another 90 bil.)
            DoE: 25 bil.
            NASA: 15 bil.
            EPA: 8 bil.

            NSF: 6 bil.

            I say screw them, let them buy their own damn computer.
      • by jschrod (172610)
        Uuh, DoE uses supercomputers mostly for other tasks. Almost all of them (and surely all of the top TOP500 list) are used for stockpile stewardship [wikipedia.org] (i.e., nuclear weapons simulation).

        The DoE has $4 billion p.a. for such tasks; not counting money from military budgets.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head. Show me a $200M government contract award that WASN'T challenged by the folks who didn't get it...

    • Uh, I don't really think you want a collaboration between the DoE and the NSA. I think you might have meant NSF, right? What would the NSA do with all those ASCI flops?
      • Umm... yeah, that was a typo, and I would be really scared over what the NSA would do with that many FLOPS. :-)

    • You're missing the mark completely here. The problem is that the DOE doesn't allow their machines to be open to public researchers. You don't get time on a DOE machine unless you're doing atomic research, etc. The NSF is inherently seperated from the DOE because of this fact. That's why we have BG/L at livermore, it's for the nuke guys. The public sector isnt' getting as many big machines anymore, just the military. So all those astrophysicists and earth sciences people won't get access period. This
      • Or hopefully this means that the DOE is (using this machine for) concentrating on things that are applicable to the private sector such as Global Warming, the environment, climate, etc, for which a collaboration with the NSF would make sense.

  • hmmm (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    A NSF machine? I wonder what a Not Safe for Work machine would have on it? PORN!
  • Upon reading this article, I can't help thinking of the NSF [wikipedia.org]. What do these guys need supercomputers for?
    .. Maybe I should play less Deus Ex :(
  • Several government supercomputing scientists said they were concerned that the decision might raise questions about impartiality and political influence.
    Unfortunately, under-the-table deals have persuaded the NSF to go with IBM, rather than me and my Beowolf Cluster of Illiterate Iguana [uncyclopedia.org] linux systems...
  • by martin-boundary (547041) on Monday August 06, 2007 @03:34AM (#20127829)
    Given that IBM's strategy is to try to run linux on all its hardware, there's a good chance that the supercomputer will be running a version of linux. Expect Ballmer to be sending several chairs by express courier to the NSF in short order.
    • If IBM wants to run Linux on all its hardware, they should think about publishing free drivers to the community. Being forced to run their commercial copies of Red Hat is only "Running Linux" by a thin margin.
    • by xcjohn (64581)
      No, and I don't know why everyone thinks this will be a BlueGene/P. NCSA bid PERCS on this. It's fairly safe to bet such a machine would run AIX (you certainly don't want to waste a petaflop on linux.
  • Unnecessary (Score:5, Funny)

    by fan of lem (1092395) on Monday August 06, 2007 @04:46AM (#20128075) Journal
    Aw c'mon, we all know it will only output 42.
  • by ShinmaWa (449201) on Monday August 06, 2007 @04:47AM (#20128097)
    This is a HORRIBLE article. Forget, for now, that it seems to be a disjointed series of sentences and let's focus on the "concern".

    Word of the decision to award the contract to I.B.M. to build a production version of a computer that is now intended for [DARPA] has created widespread concern in the past week among some computer scientists involved in designing and building the nation's high-performance computers. [...] Placing it in Illinois, however, has led to expressions of concern in California and Pennsylvania, where computing laboratories also bid on the contract.
    Okay, that's nice. What is this widespread concern? Does it have to do with the bidding process? If so, why? Why does putting it at UIUC make a difference? Maybe the next paragraph will tell us:

    The machine will become a magnet for the world's most advanced and challenging scientific research projects... [Exclamations that it's a special machine and an unfortunate comparison with Hubble]
    Guess not. Perhaps Horst Simon had something enlightening to say:

    "The process needs to be above all suspicion. [...] It's in the interest of the national community that there is not even a cloud of suspicion, and there already is one."
    Anything on the nature of this "cloud of suspicion", New York Times?

    It will also represent an extraordinary shift in the balance of computing power between military and scientific computing centers in the United States. For most of the last two decades, the fastest computers in the United States have been located at either the national laboratories at Los Alamos, N.M., or Livermore, Calif.
    I thought not.
    • As I recall, the number of NSF-funded supercomputer centers was drastically cut maybe 10 years ago or so, and something like only three emerged intact (NCSA, Pittsburg, and SDSC). I presume those are the "Illinois," "California" and "Pennsylvania" options mentioned in this otherwise utterly clueless piece of journalistic malpractice. Although maybe "California" refers to Livermore or LANL.

      That NCSA might win the contract with a proposal that IBM build the machine is about as uncontroversial and "safe" a r
      • by bockelboy (824282)
        Coming from a school which isn't on either coast, I think it's great that NSF money is being spread around a little bit.

        While I'm not questioning the excellence of the existing facilities, there's certainly faculty outside of those who might be able to be more cost-effective with their money. A $2M grant falls into the "small fish" category in some places, while a $2M grant might be huge at smaller schools. Further, I personally believe the cost of getting a grant off the ground is less expensive in the M
        • It isn't being spread out one little bit more. NCSA and ORNL have been rolling in Federal dough for the past forty years. Nothing is changing.

          It's a bit weird for Livermore to be competing for NSF dollars. Usually their funding is DOE/DoD, since they've been a closed weapons shop for decades. Oak Ridge and Los Alamos made the transition to a lot more civilian research long ago, so they have plenty of NSF money. But I think it's a bit new for Livermore to be competing so strongly for it. Again, I think
          • by bockelboy (824282)
            Good points!

            NSF does do seed money (i.e., smaller grants to get infrastructure started). However, they need to find a way to do sustainable funding in a better manner. Nothing's worse to see a seed grant help a site get started, only to have it dry up 2 years later (or, forcing the poor PI to become a full-time grant writer).

            I'm not saying we need to send $50 million to Nowhereville, Arkansas. However, it'd be nice to see a little more invested in infrastructure out there...
            • They're shits about that kind of stuff. I get the impression Congress wants to see them fund the 'eager young minds of tomorrow,' to quote the sardonic John Nash in Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind movie. Trying to screw money out of NSF for equipment and infrastructure, and often even for post-docs, is like getting blood from a stone. They'd rather fund another half-dozen grad students any day.

              Anyway, it's not my problem, since I've long since moved to private industry and I don't need to make pitches to t
  • by ghort (2896)
    IBM has at least 3 different systems that this could be (x86-ish linux cluster, power* aix, bluegene), but the article doesn't say which.

    Other competitors would have been Sun (linux or solaris), SGI (Altix), Cray, etc. Apparently the USGov won't consider Japanese machines so Hitachi/NEC are out.

    PS Japan is building a 10x faster machine in the same timeframe.

    PPS The top500 is heavily biased toward clustery machines; certain types of science codes do not run well on such systems. Not saying it's a wrong met
    • by GPSguy (62002)
      Rumor has it that this will be a Power7 machine. Whatever that is. Power6 has just been released to testing.
  • Just about every federal contract of any significance (translation: high dollar value) gets protested by the losers. Not news. Not a surprise. Not likely to have any effect of the outcome.
  • Anyone else read the headline and thought that someone decided to give a $200Mil computer to IBM for free?
  • It's "petaflops" not petaflop. Please tag this article "flopsnotflop."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FLOPS [wikipedia.org]
  • Similar concerns have also been raised about the award of a smaller machine to Oak Ridge national lab, which is a Department of Energy laboratory, not a site one would expect to house an NSF machine.


    Really? Seems to me that the NSF and the DOE Office of Science tend to work together a lot, and sharing facilities, cross-detailing personnel, etc., are pretty common between those two organizations.

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