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New NCAR Supercomputer Slices Turnaround Time in Half

September 28, 2005

BOULDER—A new supercomputer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) will enable scientists to tackle complex scientific questions in half the time. NCAR has nicknamed the computer Blue Vista.

IBM p5-575
One frame of an IBM p5-575 series system. NCAR's Blue Vista will have 16 frames.

NCAR will continue to operate its other supercomputers, an IBM POWER4-based machine and an IBM e1350 Linux Cluster, along with Blue Vista. The combined computational power of the three supercomputers places NCAR among the top 25 institutions worldwide as measured by computational capacity, estimates Tom Bettge, deputy director of NCAR's Scientific Computing Division.

The new machine's first challenge will be to study the effects of tropical convection on hurricanes and other tropical weather systems, using a regional climate model embedded in a global model. This work is relevant to the question of whether global climate change is helping produce more Category 4 and 5 hurricanes (the most powerful). The problem is so demanding, computationally, that it will occupy all of Blue Vista's available time from October through December.

"We expect that most jobs will run twice as fast with Blue Vista here," says Bettge. "That means more people can get more science done." NCAR purchased the machine with ongoing funding provided by its primary sponsor, the National Science Foundation, as well as funding from other agencies.

The new machine is an IBM p575 based on IBM's POWER5 processor. It was delivered to NCAR in late August, and software installation began on September 6. Testing will continue throughout the fall.

The machine is smaller, denser, and hotter than its predecessor, the IBM POWER4-based unit. Blue Vista takes up only a third as much floor space as the older supercomputer but requires two-thirds as much power and cooling. Bettge estimates that Blue Vista will need over 250 kilowatts of power to operate. The average personal computer consumes 0.12 kilowatts.

The new processor, along with other design improvements, allows Blue Vista's internal "clock"—the number of operations it performs each second—to run about twice as fast as its predecessor.

The research on tropical convection is a major step forward in developing a model that can seamlessly move between studies of local weather and of global climate, using the correct scale for each type of problem. The study will also include research into the effects of ocean conditions on global weather.

Engel and Bettge
NCAR's Tom Engel (left), a high-performance computing specialist, shakes hands with Tom Bettge, deputy director of NCAR's Scientific Computing Division, upon the recent acquisition of Blue Vista. (Photo by Lynda Lester, NCAR.)

Related sites on the World Wide Web 

For more about Blue Vista
For more about the IBM eServer p5 575

The National Center for Atmospheric Research and UCAR Office of Programs are operated by UCAR under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation and other agencies. Opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any of UCAR's sponsors.

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