Both the University of Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and IBM have cited unforeseen costs and greater than expected complexities amongst reasons for abandoning plans to create a petaflop-speed supercomputer this Monday. A petaflop, for those wondering, is a measure of the processing speed of a computer, that being a thousand trillion floating point operations per second – a computer with such speed capabilities being news in and of itself. Having started the project back in 2008, IBM reports today that it has terminated its four-year “Blue Waters” contract estimated at about $208 million USD, previously expected to have been delivered inside 2011.
Technology pundits such as Rick Doherty (of Envisioneering Group) are thus far seeming to focus on the fact that IBM will be returning the money they’ve recieved from the project up to this point while the NCSA will be returning all IBM equipment, while both groups have promised to work on future petascale computing projects together.
“It’s not often you hear of contract money being returned, especially with government contracts. IBM was putting a lot of resources into the contract [but] It wasn’t a profitable direction for IBM.” – Rick Doherty
If the project’s end-product computer had indeed been built, it would have been one of the top most powerful supercomuters in the world according to top500.org. The University of Illinois and the National Science Foundation funded the project, planning then to allow researchers to use the computer for all manner of advanced simulation, data-crunching, and modeling.
In addition to mounting costs and new complexities in the project, the fact that new techniques with potential for less cost and less complexity in their execution have been cropping up since 2008 may have something to do with the abandonment of the project as it existed up until two days ago.