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IBM Supercomputing Technology

Behind the Parting of IBM and Blue Waters 36

An anonymous reader writes "The News-Gazette has an article about the troubled Blue Waters supercomputer project, providing some new information about why IBM and the University of Illinois parted ways back in August. Quoting: 'More than three dozen changes, most suggested by IBM, would have delayed the Blue Waters project by a year ... The requested changes caused friction as early as December 2010, eight months before IBM pulled out, leaving the project to look for a new vendor for the supercomputer. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show Big Blue and the Big U asserting their rights in lengthy and increasingly testy, but always polite, language. In the documents, IBM suggested that if changes were not made, the project would become overly expensive.'"
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Behind the Parting of IBM and Blue Waters

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  • I doubt IBM is well placed to do anything less expensive than anyone else...

    • Isn't that the truth? IBM is definitely the consultant to call if you want to learn how to do things as inefficiently and as expensively as possible.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yes and yet their business keeps growing and outperforming most in the services business because all their customers are complete naive fools with money to burn and no sense of value.

        Perhaps you and the GP should urgently email the CIOs of all these businesses to warn them and share your great insight.

        • I will be a very happy software developer when people stop believing that "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM". I detect sarcasm in your post, but I don't think it should be there. I respect IBM for the R&D they still do, but that's about all.
          • "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM"

            . That really was true back in the day when IBM owned the mainframe business. Numerous anecdotes exist about their business practices back then. Of course those business practices pissed much of their customer base off, made a significant fraction of all sysadmins virulently anti-IBM and eventually got them into antitrust trouble and arguably nearly destroyed the company. (Hmm. Sounds familiar - what other company went the same path? Hmmm) When I was in school literally nobody in the CS department was

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Unfortunately most Ceo;s are the naive fools you state. They usually have MBA's and do not have any tech background. All it is is friendship, connections and who has the biggest line of bullshit.

      • My observation has been that some of the highest priced consultants from IBM come in the area of product specialization - products which IBM sells - and in this area, they _are_ the experts (and perhaps, the only experts) in the field. I haven't seen problems with the quality of work in these cases, but I have seen customers sour on the high fees.

        But perhaps your vitriol is directed to the Global Business Services consultants - who are the ones who work on those laaarge projects. I have no first hand experi

        • ... anecdotes suggest that they are no worse than EDS / Accenture / and others who work in the same space.

          And here is a lesson in how to damn with faint praise.

  • by BBCWatcher ( 900486 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2011 @06:42AM (#37524726)

    One part of the article: "John Melchi, a senior associate director at NCSA, said last week that there is a variety of vendors available, which he compared to a choice of car dealers." Then another part: "Though she declined to answer technical questions, the FOIA documents mention clock speed as an issue."

    OK, supercomputer vendorscar dealers, raise your hands: how many of you have 4+ GHz CPUs to sell? Standard, commercially available POWER7 cores run up to 4.25 GHz. That's the second highest clock speed CPU in the world, and by a considerable margin. (The highest in the world? this one [], at 5.2 GHz.)

    Could it be that academics demanded their idea of perfection and were unsatisfied with mere best available reality? That's never happened before.

    • It may be that other vendors appear to be able to do the project for less money per TFLOP. If (example with made up numbers) an SC based on the POWER7 cores has 100,000 cores and they cost $1000 per core, but another Intel-based SC with 200,000 cores can do the same work and costs $400 per core with the same operating cost, then the latter machine is cheaper for the performance required - which is the figure of merit.

    • Well, it probably has to do with heat more than anything else. The whole idea of this supercomputer was that it would be the most energy efficient petaflop machine in the world largely because they intended to use passive(water, and in the winter, cold air) cooling as much as possible. However, at least from what little unredacted material was released, that didn't look like it was going to happen, not this year anyway.
  • Wait, what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NoNonAlphaCharsHere ( 2201864 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2011 @06:46AM (#37524736)
    IBM told you to take your $300 million project somewhere else? If that doesn't say VOLUMES about your project management/specification process, I don't know what does.
  • Something tells me that the only reason this article exists is because of the intended pun in the title.
    • The requested changes caused friction as early as December 2010, eight months before IBM pulled out

      What about the sexual innuendo?

  • Illinois (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2011 @08:13AM (#37525076)

    Illinois is broke as all hell. They're setting themselves up to be the next California. I moved out around a year ago before they raised state income tax. At that time they hadn't paid any of the in state colleges what they were owed for around 18 months.

    U of I also came out with a genius plan to 'lock in' your rate for 4 years, so if there is a short fall, the next year is going to have a huge jump in tuition. It's getting to the point where in-state for U of I is as expensive as out of state if you were to go to Purdue, Michigan, UW Madison, etc. Out of state tuition is up near the cost of private schools.

    • I lived in the Chicagoland area for three years and it doesn't surprise me. There was so much money wasted, spoiled, and misused that it's not even funny. From Toll issues to the problems they have with elected and public officials...

    • by Meeni ( 1815694 )
      Money for building the computer essentially comes from NSF. U.I.U.C. provides for a marginal part of the cost.
      • by whovian ( 107062 )

        Did NSF pay for just the computer proper? How much was allocated to the building itself, the cooling system, the land? I assume the land was given by the State of Illinois. I believe some of the fundage for the building and cooling was campus-bought -- but I'm not certain.


    • U of I also came out with a genius plan to 'lock in' your rate for 4 years, so if there is a short fall, the next year is going to have a huge jump in tuition. This wasn't the U of I's idea. We have the great Governor Blago to thank for this. Not only did he decrease funding for the university, he also made it harder for the U to raise its own. Genius!
  • Sorry. I guess my title was just as full of shit as TFA's You can read the article to confirm but basically it says, "we can't give out the facts".

  • Such projects are always based on estimated performance numbers. It looks to me like the estimated (and contractually signed) target performance was higher than what IBM could deliver in the budget envelope and the target timeframe. Probably the technology advance was not delivering as expected. As the U of Illinois was not ready to soften on some aspects to make it fit IBM had the choice of either delivering much more hardware at a loss or to pull out.

    From my (limited) search it looks like the project was

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp