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NOAA's next supercomputer will be a Cray-IBM hybrid system

Patrick Thibodeau | Feb. 3, 2015
New GFS weather model does a better job with recent blizzard.

NOAA will continue to source parts from IBM, not from Lenovo, to maintain the platform.

Integrating separate systems is not uncommon, said Steve Conway, a high performance computing (HPC) analyst at IDC. Many large users have multiple systems, "and I'm sure those are not all isolated from each other."

IBM's sale of its x86 server line-up to Lenovo, however, "is really causing a shift in the whole supercomputing market," said Conway. For years, Hewlett-Packard and IBM were nose-to-nose in the lead for HPC market share, but with the divestiture, IBM is now half the size it was in the supercomputing market. Its HPC efforts are now focused on its Power-based systems.

The upgraded GFS model now in use adds new detail and data to the weather forecast picture, offering better parity with the European Center for Medium range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) model. An even newer GFS model is expected to be in use roughly a year from now, and researchers will be able to run it on the more powerful petaflop system.

That new hardware will also be useful for other tasks. NOAA's hurricane model will begin running on the 776-teraflop system at the start of this year's Atlantic hurricane system. An upgrade to that model, designed to take advantage of that system, is due in late May.

While the GFS model may have gotten the recent blizzard right, weather forecasters use multiple models and still must consider the uncertainties of science in making their forecasts. The ECMWF model, for instance, did a better job in forecasting the path of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 than the U.S. model. That became something of a sore point in the U.S. -- in part leading the recent updates and hardware upgrades.


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