IBM Speeds GM Crash Tests

GM's new supercomputer at its Michigan data center to speed its cars to market

April 24, 2004

2 Min Read
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General Motors Corp. has installed a gigantic IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)supercomputer at its Michigan data center to slash the time spent processing data from expensive crash tests.

Previously, it took GM engineers three days to calculate the results of the tests. With the new computer, GM hopes to halve that turnaround.

The high-tech beast, which comprises 128 Power-4 processor-based pSeries servers, can operate at a top speed of 9 teraflops, or 9 trillion calculations per second.

GMs previous supercomputer, which was also supplied by IBM, was capable of 4.5 teraflops.

But what of the cost savings? GM claims that the supercomputer can, in some cases, reduce the amount of time taken to bring a vehicle to market from 48 to 18 months. But GM won't say what it paid for the computer.“Let’s just say we wouldn’t be investing this kind of money in this capability if it didn’t make good business sense,” says Robert Kruse, executive director of GM’s North American Engineering.

But the supercomputer is notable for more than just speeding cars to market. For one thing, GM has taken an unusual approach to harnessing its computing power. Normally, major manufacturing firms are content to rely on much more disparate systems.

“What is special about this is that it is a single system -- all heavy manufacturers with a big design function usually have very large aggregate computing facilities, which spread out,” says Jonathan Eunice, principal analyst at Illuminata Inc.

But with the sophisticated nature of the modeling applications being run by GM’s crash-test engineers, a centralized approach was the only answer. “There are applications that are well suited to this type of centralized supercomputer, such as airflow and computational fluid dynamics,” Eunice says.

Also noteworthy, the system places GM in the top 10 of the top 500 supercomputer sites -- an area that is still very much dominated by public bodies and research organizations.However, GM will still have to go some way before it reaches the type of power offered by other supercomputing sites. The Earth Simulator Center. in Japan currently tops the list with a peak performance of nearly 41,000 teraflops.

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-gen Data Center Forum

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