U.S. National Weather Service outsources supercomputer

America's National Weather Service (NWS) has moved its weather forecasting supercomputer off-site.

In a US$224 million, nine-year outsourcing agreement with IBM Corp., the U.S. government division responsible for predicting the nation's hurricanes and high pressure systems will now do its weather modeling in a hosted IBM facility rather than on government property.

The work will now be done on a cluster of 44 eServer p690 servers hosted at IBM's Gaithersburg, Maryland, hosting center. It is capable of 7.3 trillion calculations per second (teraflops), which would place it "roughly around six" on the list of the world's 500 fastest computers, IBM Vice President of Deep Computing Dave Turek said.

IBM has hosted supercomputing services in the past, said Turek, but the NWS deal is the first time that Big Blue has leased out exclusive use of a specific supercomputing system.

IBM created its Deep Computing unit in January of this year to sell high performance computational power to companies in a variety of vertical markets, including film animation, drug testing and geological analysis.

For the NWS, the decision to have IBM host the supercomputer came down to a decision of price/performance. "We were able to get broader levels of performance over the life of the contract when the system was in a vendor facility," said Kevin Cooley, the chief information officer with the NWS's National Center for Environmental Prediction.

IBM will continue to enhance the system's performance throughout the life of its contract with the NWS. The leased supercomputer will achieve 48 times the performance of the current system by the time the contract ends in 2012, according to Cooley.

The new machine will perform at 100 teraflops by 2009, IBM estimates. This means that the NWS will be able to make seven-day forecasts with the same level of accuracy as its current three-day to four-day forecasts, according to Cooley.

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