IBM Supercomputes in Alaska

Big Blue's AIX-based Iceberg performs 5 trillion operations per second

The Arctic Region Supercomputing Center (ARSC) will use a new pSeries-powered supercomputer from IBM Corp. to study the complex environmental relationships that support salmon and whitefish populations in the Gulf of Alaska.

Big Blue also touted a recent report from market research firm International Data Corp. which found that it was the leading vendor in high-performance computing (HPC) in the fourth quarter of 2002.

ARSC’s new supercomputer, dubbed, appropriately enough, Iceberg, will create three-dimensional models that combine the currents and depths of the ocean with biological information about its aquatic life. The expectation, ARSC researchers indicate, is that Iceberg’s models will help them to understand the growth and demise of certain species of aquatic life over the last 30 years.

The Iceberg supercomputer, which can perform five trillion operations per second, is powered by a cluster of 92 IBM p655 systems—each of which is populated with eight Power4 chips—and anchored by two IBM p690 servers, each outfitted with a maximum complement of 32 Power4 microprocessors. Iceberg runs IBM’s AIX operating system, and is one of ARSC’s most powerful computing systems.

ARSC director Frank Williams says that Iceberg will enable his organization to perform multi-teraflop modeling. "This technology will allow us to expand our program into multi-teraflop testing, and allow scientists and researchers to perform simulations that we hope will allow us to make more informed decisions about our aquatic environment."

Salmon and whitefish are important to the economies of many small Alaskan towns, not to mention the overall health of the Alaskan fishing industry. Combined, the fish account for nearly 56 percent of all seafood consumed in the United States—including 95 percent of all salmon.

By modeling different geographies over a broad slice of time and space, researchers at ARSC and the University of Alaska expect to determine why populations of fish shift from one area to another—or die off completely.

In addition to these scenarios, scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and other academic and federal agencies—along with researchers at ARSC—will use Iceberg to research environmental challenges and ecosystem balances on land, in space and in the sea. It will also support research in other fields, including bioinformatics, global climate change, ocean circulation, glacial formation, and arctic engineering.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.