The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded IBM contracts valued at $325 million to develop and deliver advanced “data centric” supercomputing systems at Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories IBM announced today. The twist: It sounds like the systems won't be online until about 2017 or 2018.

Still, the contracts arrive at a critical time for IBM and its hardware business, which faces intense competition from commodity "white label" servers and cloud solutions. The government will use the new "data centric" systems for science, engineering and national security.

IBM claims the data centric systems embeds compute power everywhere data resides in the system, allowing for a convergence of analytics, modeling, visualization, and simulation, driving new insights at "incredible speeds."

Big Numbers

The systems at each laboratory are expected to offer five to 10 times better performance on commercial and high-performance computing applications compared to the current systems at the labs, and will be more than five times more energy efficient. Neither IBM nor the labs disclosed what type of systems are currently in place.

The “Sierra” supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore and “Summit” supercomputer at Oak Ridge will each have a peak performance above 100 petaflops balanced with more than five petabytes of dynamic and flash memory to help accelerate the performance of data centric applications, IBM said.

Moreover, the systems will be able to move data to the processor, when necessary, at more than 17 petabytes per second -- the equivalent to moving over 100 billion photos on Facebook in a second, IBM estimated.

Opportunities and Challenges

IBM's Data Centric strategy aims to keep Big Blue's supercomputer performance ahead of community Linux systems and the growing cloud computing wave. IBM recently abandoned 2015 profit goals amid growing competition from cloud and mobile computing.

In addition to touting the performance of high-end data centric systems, IBM recently named a new leader for its IBM Global Technology Services business, while expanding an enterprise support relationship with Apple.

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