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IBM will provide extra processing power to the US Department of Energy (DOE)'s Argonne National Lab, quintupling Argonne's power to 556 trillion floating point operations per second (teraflops)by using Blue Gene/P supercomputer tech.

“[Argonne Lab] has been a valuable contributor in the development of Blue Gene/P,” said Leo Suarez, head of deep computing at IBM.

“The close working relationship that we enjoy will deliver a machine that will propel scientific discovery in the most profound way since Galileo's telescope.”

Most of the half-petaflop of available computing time will be allocated to scientific research projects by the DOE's peer-reviewed Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) programme.

Argonne's Ray Bair said: “Researchers can employ this new computing resource to attack cutting-edge problems in science and engineering at unprecedented scale and speed in areas like understanding the molecular basis of Parkinson’s disease, designing more efficient jet engines, and manipulating light at the nanoscale.”

As of last June, according to the TOP500 supercomputer project, the most powerful supercomputer "known to us" was another IBM job, a BlueGene/L at the Lawrence Livermore DOE lab in California, rated for 280 teraflops. The TOP500 lads predict the first petaflop machine in 2008/09.

The Argonne people want to be ready for the petaflop era. They have a plan to team up with IBM and offer an open-source Blue Gene software platform in 2008. They say this will "speed the evolution of software for Blue Gene and provide the community with a platform for testing ideas applicable to future petaflop and exaflop systems".

The boffins offered the following indication of the power of a half-petaflop computer, calculating that:

"If all six billion people on Earth were participating in a science computation, they each would need to do 70,000 additions or multiplications per second to keep up with it."

Such numbers seem a trifle cumbersome. Some researchers have suggested that an IBM BlueGene system which seems to have been rated at 11.5 teraflops was able to simulate half of a mouse brain.

On this basis, the new Argonne job will be roughly equivalent to 25 mouse brains. Though the Beeb report doesn't quite make it clear which system actually ran the mouse-brain sim.

Proper stats and description from the DOE people may be read starting here. ®

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