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Swedish boffins spring for IBM System S super

Space weather nowcasting

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Server maker IBM has been on a kick to commercialize its PowerPC-based massively parallel BlueGene Linux supercomputers and has just sold another of its System S streaming boxes to a bunch of Swedish boffins who want to "nowcast" as well as forecast the electromagnetic weather in the Solar System.

Uppsala University in Sweden and the Swedish Institute of Space Physics are taking possession of the parallel super, which will be equipped with IBM's InfoSphere Streams software to process data collected in real time from Earth-bound antenna arrays. These antennas are tuned to sniff out high frequency radio emissions, such as those relating to solar flares, which can mess with electric power lines, satellites, radio and television transmissions, and airline and space travel.

The Swedish scientists say they have developed a triaxial antenna that can gather an order of magnitude more information about sun spots, electromagnetic storms, and such than prior sensors could, but the problem is that the amount of data coming in from the antenna quickly overwhelms the ability of a server to store it, much less process it. The project they are working on will process 6 gigabytes of information coming in from the antenna arrays per second.

"With this type of research, you have to be able to analyze as much data as possible on the fly," explained Bo Thidé, professor and head of research at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics and director of the LOIS Space Center. "There is no way to even consider storing it. InfoSphere Streams is playing a pivotal role in this project. Without it, we could not possibly receive this volume of signals and handle them at such a high data rate because until now, there was not a structured, stable way of analyzing it."

The InfoSphere Streams software is not chewing through data so much as picking through it to find the interesting and relevant bits of data that can be used to "nowcast" the current space weather, data which will then be used to create a forecast that might, for instance, predict the effect that a magnetic storm on the Sun will have on power and communications systems 18 to 24 hours after the event. (Yes, the boffins said nowcast). Ultimately, the Swedish scientists want to be able to model the upper atmosphere.

The System S software has been in development by IBM Research for more than six years, and the first prototype of the software, running on a BlueGene/P super, was sold to Toronto Dominion Bank back in early April to be the data combine back-ending an options trading system for the bank. Since then, IBM has been positioning InfoSphere Streams as a component of real-time business analytics and optimization, which Big Blue believes will bring in $2bn or more in sales for the company by 2010. ®

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