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Winter 2001

NCAR powers up climate and weather research with enhanced IBM system

by Anatta

Atmospheric scientists around the country will soon have access to powerful new computational, storage, and communications technologies. In November, NCAR and UCAR announced the purchase of a new IBM SP supercomputer, to be followed by latest- generation technologies, code-named Blue Sky, in a three-phase acquisition for NCAR's Advanced Research Computing System (ARCS).

The new system is expected to accelerate research in global and regional climate change, droughts, short- and long-range weather prediction and warnings, wildland fires, turbulence, atmospheric chemistry, space weather, and other critical areas. NSF purchased the machine for use at NCAR to advance a wide range of research topics in the foundation's ten-year plan for the geosciences.

According to NCAR director Tim Killeen, "The addition of [ARCS] to NCAR's computing center is the single biggest increment in raw computing power in NCAR history. It will provide U.S. scientists with speed, efficiency, and data storage space they need to stay at the forefront of climate, weather, and many other essential areas of research."

The acquisition began this fall with the delivery of a suite of equipment that more than doubles the computational capacity of NCAR's current IBM SP to a peak of 2 trillion calculations per second (2 teraflops). It will increase the lab's current disk storage capacity fivefold, up to 10.5 trillion bytes, or characters, of data. A second delivery, in September 2002, will introduce IBM's next-generation processors, nodes, and other hardware, bringing the peak speed up to 7 teraflops. The package will also include 21 terabytes of new disk storage. In the fall of 2003, NCAR will receive IBM's next round of switch technology, whose lower latency and higher bandwidth will significantly increase signal speed.

The increase in NCAR's computing capacity will directly benefit climate change research. For example, NCAR's Climate System Model simulates a century of climate in 29 days of computing time. NCAR's current IBM SP system, code-named blackforest, is capable of running 6 such simulations simultaneously in that time. The equipment installed this year ups the number to 14 simulations in a month. A year from now, when the second phase of new equipment kicks in, the combined power of all IBM SP systems will allow nearly 50 one-century climate simulations per month.

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Thu Dec 20 16:42:17 MST 2001