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Sun's Oz super computer goes horribly pear shaped

Teraflop aim achieves giga flop, Q lurks to strip flesh off bones?

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A terse note at the site of APAC, the outfit running Australia's bid "to be recognised as an 'advanced computing' country," reveals something deeply embarrasing for one of the industry's most prominent pushers of gigafloppery. It says: "The initial configuration of the APAC peak computing system failed acceptance tests in September 2000, so the process of acquiring a system has been restarted. It's hoped there will be a system available by the second quarter of 2001."

So who blew it? Well, in a release in August Sun Microsystems (for it is they) revealed that it had "joined forces with the Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing (APAC) to install a powerful computing system for Australian researchers and industry professionals. The system will be installed in the APAC National Facility at the Australian National University, which is the host institution for APAC."

Oops. The cringeworthy paragraphs roll onward: "The three-year agreement will see an initial commissioning of a 200 Gigaflop system in September 2000, [our heartless emphasis throughout] comprising a cluster of four E10000 compute nodes, and will progressively upgrade this to over one Teraflop by mid-2002. This means a five- to ten-fold increase in the capacity of the largest computer systems available for research and education in Australia."

Or not. "We look forward to delivering our support to Australia's high-performance computing, research and development sector through this project," said Sun spokesman Russ Bate, who presumably is still looking forward to delivering it.

APAC is intended to give Australian scientists access to advanced computing power from their desktops, rather than them having to go overseas for heavy-duty crunching. So the glitch whereby the Sun gear seems not to have worked to spec is a serious issue for Australia, plus it was intended to be a pretty powerful system. APAC has been looking for such a system since August of last year, when its executive director said it was looking at the likes of IBM, Sun, NEC and HP.

But a little bird (and where the hell do you think we got this stuff?) tells us that Sun might have got the APAC gig in the first place by letting it be known that it had won the ASCI Q (Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative) contract to provide a supercomputer for the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to use to simulate underground nuclear testing, among other things.

Regrettably (if the little bird tells true), Compaq won that one in August with a $200 million 12,000 Alpha processor 30 teraflop nightmare. And following Sun's disgrace, Q is now said to be gunning for the reopened APAC contract. ®

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