August 9, 2011 – IBM is backing away from a project for providing a sustained petascale supercomputer as part of the Blue Waters project with the University of Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

Selected in 2007 by the university, IBM was working with the university to produce a supercomputer that could process a thousand-trillion floating point operations per second, or flops, by 2012. However, NCSA and IBM announced jointly that they could not reach an agreement on moving forward with completion and maintenance of the project after the “innovative technology that IBM ultimately developed was more complex and required significantly increased financial and technical support by IBM beyond its original expectations.”

Joanna Brewer, IBM spokesperson, declined to comment on specifics of the differences in technology and costs that led to termination. However, Brewer noted that IBM plans to continue with other investments in the development of technology in the supercomputer market space.

“This was an isolated situation with unique circumstances. This in no way reflects on IBM’s commitment to the high-performance computing space,” Brewer says.

NCSA will return three IBM P775 racks at its data center from the project and IBM will return the money it received so far, which John Melchi, NCSA senior associate director, pegged at $30 million.
The National Science Foundation, which has partially funded the project with $208 million in grants, has requested the project be re-planned with another vendor “on par with the IBM P775 system,” Melchi says. That project is still slated for completion by 2012, with the eventual supercomputer to be located in an 88,000-square-foot data center built last year in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, according to the NCSA.

The K Computer, built by Fujitsu and Japan’s Riken national laboratory, was declared the world’s fastest supercomputer at about 8 petaflops in June. IBM delivered the world’s first petaflop computer, Roadrunner, in 2008 for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

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