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The US Navy has bought a new supercomputer from IBM that will, at a theoretical peak performance of 20 Teraflops, be the US military's fastest machine. The machine will be used to improve short term weather forecasts for fleets at sea, and to model aircraft and submarine designs.

The computer, which will cost the Department of Defense less than $100m, should slot into the Top 500 list at number four, displacing another IBM machine, the BlueGene/L DD1 Prototype.

The Washington Post reports that the military chose the IBM machine because it "failed gracefully". Stephen Adamec, director of supercomputing at the Stennis Space Center, said that IBM has proven that if there is a problem, the machine will switch to backup computers without a hitch.

The machine will enable military scientists to model the atmosphere and ocean currents across the surface of the Earth. It will also be put to use simulate the stresses that aircraft wings are subject to, modelling the behaviour of the wing material down to a molecular level. Similarly, its modelling of hydrodynamics: the flow of water around submarines, will inform hull design.

The machine is based on 368 IBM servers running partially customised chips, according to Debra Goldfarb, a vice president in IBM's deep computing division. This puts it somewhere in between the BlueGene prototype machine -designed to run using thousands of standard processors, and Japan's Earth Simulator, which is highly specialised and customised, she said. ®

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