Cray delivers first Blue Waters components

Cray delivers first Blue Waters components

CHAMPAIGN — The first components for the new Blue Waters petascale supercomputer are in place at the University of Illinois, and researchers could begin using it in March.

Seattle-based Cray Inc., which took over the project in November after IBM pulled out over cost and technical concerns, delivered the first 40 computer components on Saturday.

The $310 million project is designed to achieve sustained computing speeds of 1 petaflop — 1,000 trillion floating-point operations per second — allowing scientists to undertake massive projects on everything from viruses to tornadoes, earthquakes and the origins of the universe.

Blue Waters will be a hybrid built with 235 Cray XE6 computer cabinets and 30 Cray XK6 cabinets.

About 40 Cray computer racks — refrigerator-size cabinets filled with the hardware that will make up the bulk of the computer — were delivered and installed by Cray employees on Saturday. More are scheduled to arrive next week and throughout February, said Trish Barker, spokeswoman for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

Blue Waters won't be fully deployed until the fall, when the graphics processing units will be available, she said. But a smaller section of it should be up and running within six weeks.

The first users will come from the two dozen projects identified by the National Science Foundation for Blue Waters, Barker said. The hardware is tested by Cray before it's shipped, and scientists will work with Blue Waters to prepare software for the new system, she said.

The computer, the largest ever built by Cray, is uniquely designed to handle "multidimensional" tasks required by researchers and adapt to new challenges, officials have said.

Cray was the original vendor for the UI National Center for Supercomputing Applications in its early years in the 1980s.

The National Science Foundation and the UI, who are jointly funding Blue Waters, selected the supercomputer pioneer just three months after they mutually announced the end of IBM's involvement in August.

The UI and NSF began having difficulties with IBM as early as December 2010. More than three dozen changes, most suggested by IBM, would have delayed the Blue Waters project by a year and increased its cost, the UI argued in documents obtained by The News-Gazette last fall.

IBM removed its Power 7 servers and repaid the project $30 million.

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