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IBM has flicked the switch on the world's most powerful privately-owned supercomputer. Nicknamed BGW it takes second place behind IBM's BlueGene machine at Lawrence Livermore National Labs.

BGW, or the Watson Blue Gene system as it is more formally known, has a processing speed of 91.29 teraflops. It is half the size of comparable machines and is made up of 20 fridge-sized racks.

IBM researchers will use the giant calculator to test theories in everything from business applications to weather forecasting and life sciences. The first thing it will be used for is running protein simulations for drug development.

Academic researchers will also get the chance to use the uber-machine. Big Blue will give 5 per cent of BGW's time to the Department of Energy's Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) programme. INCITE supports large-scale computer projects.

Big Blue has set up a new consulting and software unit - the Center for Business Optimization unit - which will use BGW to run mathematical algorithms "to tackle clients' previously unsolvable problems". The machine can also track and analyse world currencies and financial markets to improve global risk strategies. The machine cost about $40m, according to Bloomberg. ®

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