Weather research group stretches computer power

Without paying any direct costs, the National Center for Atmospheric Research has
expanded its computing power tenfold through a loan agreement with a Compaq Computer Corp.

Late last year, NCAR’s weather research group in Boulder, Colo., borrowed 42
Digital Equipment Corp. 600-MHz Alpha workstations, seven multiprocessor Digital
AlphaServers and two Compaq StorageWorks RAID Array 7000 units, worth $8.7 million. The
equipment was loaned by iMSC Corp. of Colorado Springs, Colo.

At peak, the 32-processor servers and uniprocessor workstations could execute as many
as 118 billion floating-point operations per second, NCAR officials estimated. NCAR’s
Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division will use the borrowed systems to port to
Digital Unix the Mesoscale Model 5 (MM5) weather forecasting tool used around the world to
simulate thunderstorms and other small-scale weather phenomena. The Alpha workstations can
run the MM5 code at about 200 megaFLOPS.

In addition to a port to Compaq’s Digital Unix operating system, the loan could
lead to an MM5 version for Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, according to NCAR officials.

IMSC and other investors formed the Advanced Research Alliance to buy the hardware from
Compaq. The NCAR loan indicates Compaq’s continued interest in high-performance
computing after its acquisition of Digital last year.

NCAR, a National Science Foundation-funded organization, will play its part by giving
suggestions to iMSC and Compaq about redesigning the Digital systems for high-end
scientific applications.

Through CPU upgrades and other steps, iMSC will upgrade the hardware during the
three-year loan, and the Advanced Research Alliance will sell the used components.  


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