IBM's Superfast Blue Gene Will Be Part Of Japanese Biology And Drug-Design Project

The system's expected top speed of 22.8 teraflops would today rank behind only the Japanese government's Earth Simulator, with a top speed of 40.9 teraflops, and a 22.9-teraflops system at

September 7, 2004

2 Min Read
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IBM said it has sold one of a new class of experimental supercomputers to a government research lab in Japan that would be the world's third-fastest computer if installed today. The Blue Gene/L supercomputer, scheduled to run at a peak speed of 22.8 trillion computations a second, is scheduled to come online in February to research problems in biology and drug design.

The Computational Biology Research Center of Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tokyo is the third organization to buy one of IBM's Blue Gene supercomputers. It's part of a research project aimed at building machines that can deliver extremely fast performance for solving complicated problems in biology and other fields at a lower cost, smaller size, and with a more efficient design than other supercomputers. The Energy Department's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Dutch astronomical research organization Astron have also bought Blue Gene systems. IBM's agreement with Japan's AIST may expand to include scientific collaboration between the two, says Bill Pulleyblank, director of IBM's deep computing institute.

IBM has targeted pharmaceutical and biology research as one of a handful of scientific and engineering disciplines that are pushing the requirements for the world's most powerful systems. IBM recently said it would move to commercialize its Blue Gene systems and the technology derived from them. "In a sense, it's not for sale" yet, Pulleyblank says. "There are a number of people [here] identifying the right groups to go after to build a machine that's interesting to them."

Biotechnology applications accounted for about 16%, or $917 million, of worldwide high-performance computing revenue last year, which were $5.5 billion, says Chris Willard, an analyst at market-research company IDC. By 2008, IDC expects the biotech field to generate nearly 20% of $7.6 billion in total sales, or about $1.5 billion. IBM could also sell Blue Gene systems to companies that run applications for financial analysis; seismic imaging; and computational fluid dynamics, which is used to design cars and airplanes. Blue Gene technology could also find its way into other products, he adds.

By any measure, the AIST system will be a monster. Its expected top speed of 22.8 teraflops would today rank behind only the Japanese government's Earth Simulator, with a top speed of 40.9 teraflops, and a 22.9-teraflops system at Lawrence Livermore Lab. Separately, IBM is assembling a Blue Gene system at its Thomas J. Watson Research Center that Pulleyblank says would be the world's largest privately owned supercomputer when it comes online early next year. It's expected to have a top speed of 114 teraflops.

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