NOAA predicts Linux supercomputer will improve forecasts

NOAA predicts Linux supercomputer will improve forecasts

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

APRIL 26'Government weather researchers are turning to the Linux open-source operating system to help them improve the accuracy of their precipitation forecasts.

Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Forecast Systems Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., today unveiled a $17 million Linux-based supercomputer named Jet.

"This was one of the first competitive procurements that was won by a Linux supercomputer," said Luke Lonergan, technical director of High Performance Technologies Inc. (HPTi) of Reston, Va., which built the system for NOAA.

Other government researchers have experimented with Linux-based supercomputing, including the CPlant and Avalon clusters at Energy Department laboratories. But Jet is the first Linux cluster in a "real production research environment," said HPTi president Don Fitzpatrick.

The technology is advancing so rapidly that such a Linux system would not have been feasible even a year ago, said A.E. "Sandy" MacDonald, director of the Forecast Systems Laboratory.

Jet is powered by 256 667-MHz Alpha processors from Compaq Computer Corp., with eight additional processors devoted to input-output and eight spare chips. Plans call for increasing the number of processors over the next two years to about 1,500, which would give Jet a theoretical peak speed of several trillion floating-point operations per second, officials said.

Forecast Systems Laboratory researchers will use Jet primarily to refine and improve the weather forecast computer models used by the National Weather Service and other agencies.

The laboratory is working with NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) and the University of Oklahoma to develop next-generation weather models that will predict precipitation more accurately than today's simulations, MacDonald said. Researchers want to be able to "see" and predict weather features that are only 1 or 2 miles in size.

However, Jet also is capable of pinch-hitting for NCEP's operational forecasting system, an IBM SP parallel supercomputer in Bowie, Md. [see GCN story at www.gcn.com/vol19_no4/enterprise/1337-1.html].

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