BOULDER--A weather research group at the National Center for AtmosphericResearch has just upped its computing power ten times at no direct costto NCAR through an innovative loan arrangement with Compaq ComputerCorporation and iMSC Corporation, a computer consulting firm. OnWednesday, October 28, NCAR celebrated the arrival of 42 newworkstations and 7 high-end, multiprocessor AlphaServers worth $8.7million from Compaq. IMSC originated the loan with Digital EquipmentCorporation, which was recently acquired by Compaq. NCAR's primarysponsor is the National Science Foundation.
NCAR's Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division (MMM) will use thisincrease in its raw computing power primarily to develop further the MM5computer model, a pre-eminent weather research and forecast tool usedaround the world. The division expects to run the state-of-the-art modelat a resolution not previously possible for simulating smaller-scaleatmospheric features such as thunderstorms and other weather phenomena.According to MMM director Robert Gall, the new hardware will have a"huge" impact on the group's work on a vital data assimilation program,which will ultimately benefit the entire atmospheric science community.
"We're all very excited," says Gall. "At a time when research dollarsand computer allocations are harder to come by, an opportunity like thiscan have a tremendous beneficial impact on our work."
iMSC teamed with six Colorado investors to form Advanced ResearchAlliance. ARA purchased the hardware at a substantial discount fromCompaq and then lent it to MMM. In exchange, MMM will test and evaluatethe systems and provide input to iMSC and Compaq for reconfiguring andredesigning the systems for scientific applications. At specified timesduring the three-year period, iMSC will upgrade the hardware (throughsteps such as chip replacements) and ARA will sell the used components.In 2001, ARA will sell the entire set of computers. This collaborationwill result in a win-win-win situation for the three parties. ARA willhave profited from its sales, MMM will have made otherwise impossiblescientific leaps through the use of the computers, and Compaq will haveobtained exposure and proof-of-performance for its high-end productline.
During the three years of the NCAR loan, iMSC will use a similar suiteof Compaq machines to refine a version of MM5 that can be run bynonscientists on the Windows NT operating system. This version can beused by business and industry decision makers, government emergencymanagers, and even high school students.
The AlphaServers, which have been on the market since 1991, are thechief products in Compaq's high-performance computing division. At itsaggregate peak, the group of AlphaServers and Alpha workstations at NCARcould in theory deliver 118 gigaflops (118 billion floating-pointoperations per second). In practice, however, each of the single-processor workstations--which now have the same 600 MHz chips as themultiprocessor servers--runs the MM5 code at approximately 200megaflops.
NCAR is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research(UCAR) under sponsorship by the National Science Foundation. UCAR is aconsortium of more than 60 universities offering Ph.D.s in atmosphericand related sciences.
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