Another vendor being sought for Blue Waters after IBM leaves
URBANA — The University of Illinois industry-leading water-cooled supercomputer hit a setback Monday: IBM no longer finds it cost-effective to work with Blue Waters.
A prime supplier, IBM has ended its relationship with the project effective Aug. 6.
IBM spokeswoman Joanna Brewer said the project was getting too expensive.
"The Blue Waters contract was awarded to IBM in 2007 based on preliminary and conceptual design points. Greatly increased costs resulting from the final design, and ongoing changes required during the implementation phase led to the decision by IBM to no longer provide the Blue Waters supercomputer," she said Monday.
She said IBM's Power775 servers are ready and will be shipped to other buyers later this month.
John Melchi, NCSA's senior associate director for administration, said a new major vendor will be found, but it's too early to comment on whom, since the deal fell through only days ago.
Melchi said NCSA is "guardedly optimistic" that the project will continue with no further troubles.
He also said that in discussions with the funding agency, the National Science Foundation, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications has said it will meet its fall 2012 deadline and the supercomputer will reach a sustainable speed of 1 petaflop — one quadrillion floating point operations per second. The NCSA explains that as, "if you could multiply two 14-digit numbers every second, it would take about 31 million years to complete the 1 quadrillion calculations Blue Waters will complete every second."
According to a joint release by the company and the NCSA, IBM will return money received to date. The NCSA will return equipment delivered by IBM according to the terms of the contract.
IBM had to give back $30 million to the NCSA, according to the high-tech blog at http://www.theregister.co.uk.
But the NCSA said it is still going forward with the project, though possibly with a different name, since Blue Waters is a reference to IBM's nickname "Big Blue."
Melchi said no decision will be made on renaming the project at this time.
Lisa-Joy Zgorski, a spokeswoman for the NSF, said the foundation would be reviewing changes.
"Right now it's the status quo. We anticipate that Illinois will propose alternatives, and we expect that any proposed revisions will be within the general scope of the project funded," she said.
She said the NSF expected to be reviewing a new plan by mid-September.
The Blue Waters project is intended to produce a sustained performance of 1 petaflop on a range of science and engineering applications such as predicting the behavior of complex biological systems, understanding how the cosmos evolved after the Big Bang, designing new materials at the atomic level and predicting the behavior of hurricanes and tornadoes, the NCSA has said.
Trish Barker, a spokeswoman for the NCSA, said "IBM has terminated its contract to provide the hardware, but IBM will still be building its (next-generation) Power7 hardware."
"We anticipate quickly trying to replan the project with an alternate type of hardware, on the same timeline of 2012 as if we had been staying with IBM."
"It is certainly our hope that it will not cause further delay," Barker said.
According to a statement, "NCSA is confident that its goal of building a sustained-petascale supercomputer remains achievable in a timely manner. NCSA is coordinating with the National Science Foundation to ensure project continuity and that the goals of the project are achieved."
The UI and the NCSA selected IBM in 2007 as the supercomputer vendor for the Blue Waters project based on projections of future technology development.
"The innovative technology that IBM ultimately developed was more complex and required significantly increased financial and technical support by IBM beyond its original expectations," the NCSA and IBM said in a statement.
The NCSA said it worked closely with IBM on various proposals to retain IBM's participation in the project but could not come to a mutually agreed-on plan concerning the path forward.