IBM scraps supercomputer plans

IBM and the University of Illinois have pulled the plug on the petaflop speed supercomputer they’ve been building since 2008.

The intention had been to build a supercomputer that would have been one of the fastest in the world, based on the Power7 processor and capable of a quadrillion floating point operations per second – a petaflop.

It was destined for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). But, citing greater than expected costs and complexity, the $208 million contract has now been terminated.

The team was believed to be pretty close to completion of the Blue Water project, and NCSA says it believes that a sustained-petascale supercomputer is still achievable in a reasonable timeframe. It’s now working with the National Science Foundation to this end.

The University of Illinois and NCSA picked IBM for the project in 2007, based on projections of future technology development.

But, say NCSA and IBM, “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 two organizations say they worked closely on various proposals to keep IBM involved in the project, but couldn’t agree how to proceed. It had proved a big investment in terms of money and resources for IBM, especially as new developments in supercomputing kept meaning that the goalposts moved.

IBM will return money received to date and NCSA will return equipment delivered by IBM under the terms of the contract.