I had the pleasure of touring the NCSA’s ‘Blue Waters’, a national petascale supercomputing facility, on the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign campus so it is with some sadness that I read that the project has suffered a setback as IBM removes itself from the partnership.
In a NCSA-IBM joint statement, it is revealed that IBM terminated the contract effective Saturday. IBM will return the money received and NCSA will return the equipment
Effective August 6, 2011, IBM terminated its contract with the University of Illinois to provide the supercomputer for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications’ Blue Waters project.
NCSA is confident that its goal of building a sustained-petascale supercomputer remains achievable in a timely manner. NCSA is coordinating with the National Science Foundation to ensure project continuity and that the goals of the project are achieved.
The University of Illinois and NCSA selected IBM in 2007 as the supercomputer vendor for the Blue Waters project based on projections of future technology development. The innovative technology that IBM ultimately developed was more complex and required significantly increased financial and technical support by IBM beyond its original expectations. NCSA and IBM worked closely on various proposals to retain IBM’s participation in the project but could not come to a mutually agreed-on plan concerning the path forward.
IBM will return money received to date and NCSA will return equipment delivered by IBM per terms of the contract.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is home to a modern, energy-efficient data center that provides high-bandwidth connectivity to national and international networks and a massive archival storage system. NCSA also has deep staff expertise in computer and computational science that will ensure the science and engineering community can take full advantage of any new supercomputer.
IBM, the University of Illinois, and NCSA will explore other opportunities to continue the strong working relationship established during the Blue Waters project.
The Register reports on how much money/equipment has traded hands…
John Melchi, who led the NPCF project and is head of the administration directorate of the NCSA, was bragging in April 2010 that the data center for Blue Waters was completed ahead of time and under budget, which has to be some sort of record in the IT business.
Speaking to El Reg this morning just after a trip to the dentist and ahead of a slew of phone calls from HPC vendors, Melchi said that the total value of the Blue Waters contract, which was being funded mostly by the National Science Foundation with some application code work being paid for by the university. To date, IBM had shipped three racks of the Blue Waters supers to NCSA, and these will be returned. IBM has to give back $30m to NCSA.
and compares this pull-out to the same reasoning NEC and Hitachi removed itself from a Japanese government supercomputer project.
This is precisely the reason why in May 2009 NEC and Hitachi pulled out of the $1.2bn K super project to build a 10-petaflopper for the Japanese government. During the Great Recession, both companies were losing money and said they would lose even more money manufacturing the K machine. Fujitsu, which was also a partner on the project, salvaged the deal and the K super, built using the Sparc64-VIIIfx processor and the Tofu interconnect, was ranked the top-performing super on the Top 500 supercomputer list in June. It is not clear how much the Fujitsu-only version of the K super cost, but it was surely a lot less than the planned $1.2bn.
Like K, Blue Waters, which is being commercialized by IBM as the Power 775 server, is a complex machine with very high manufacturing costs. The machine has 2U server drawers that fit into custom racks that are 30 inches wide and 6 feet deep. Each node has 256 cores, 2TB of memory, and a series of home-grown hub/switch chips that can last together up to 2,048 Power 775 drawers (a total of 524,288 Power7 cores) with a peak performance of over 16 petaflops.
Champaign-Urbana’s local newspaper, The News-Gazette, also talked to John Melchi who seemed confident a new major vendor would be found and was “guardedly optimistic” that the project will continue without further interruptions. However, Blue Waters might receive a name change further down the road as the project moves forward since its Blue Waters is a reference to IBM’s nickname Big Blue.
The NCSA said it worked closely with IBM on various proposals to retain IBM’s participation in the project but could not come to a mutually agreed-on plan concerning the path forward.
Will we see HP or another high-end server vendor filling this energy-efficient data center in central Illinois and will it possibly keep on track for its 2012 schedule?