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Rare win against IBM and HP

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Sun Microsystems continues its march toward supercomputing respectability. The company has won a deal to supply the University of Texas with a system that should easily be one of the fastest on the planet when completed in 2007.

The Texas Advanced Computer Center (TACC) at UT will put a $59m grant from the National Science Foundation toward the supercomputer. The school hopes to have a base version of the computer humming away by June 1 and a final version running by October 2007. All told, the finished product will have a whopping 13,000 four-core Opteron processors from AMD, 100TB of memory and 1.7PB of disk.

It's a Texas-sized box to be sure.

Sun had largely vanished from the Top 500 supercomputer rankings, allowing IBM, HP, Dell and more specialized players to have all the glory. The company, however, has enjoyed recent high performance computing success on the back of its Opteron-based server line. A Sun built system sitting in Tokyo currently claims the seventh spot on the Top 500 list.

The TACC box should shoot well past the Tokyo system with Sun and UT claiming it will reach peak performance of 400 teraflops.

IBM's Blue Gene system at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is the current speed record holder, topping out at 280 teraflops. Next year, IBM plans to launch a new machine that combines its own Cell processors with Opteron chips. That supercomputer for Los Alamos National Lab should come close to quadrupling Blue Gene's performance by cranking 1 quadrillion floating-point operations per second - aka a petaflop.

The UT system will be used for a wide variety of scientific tasks such as calculating booster donations for the school's football team.

The US has long considered its supercomputing systems national treasures. Washington has been willing to fund the giants with pork-rich grants, allowing us to prove that our boxes are bigger and faster than those in weaker, less manly nations.

At times, however, Washington's interest in supercomputers has waned, leaving national labs with a pork shortage. W last year pledged to make sure that such shortages don't occur on his watch. And, wouldn't you know it, Texas ended up with a massive system. ®

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