After years of work, one of the most powerful computers in the world has launched at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Researchers and scientists throughout the country can now use the $350 million Blue Waters supercomputer. Some businesses also can use the 5,500-square-foot machine run by the university's National Center for Supercomputing Applications.
The supercomputer is especially adept at crunching numbers and analyzing data. At its peak the supercomputer operates at 11.6 petaflops, or 11.6 quadrillion calculations per second, NCSA spokeswoman Trish Barker said. "For the supercomputer, that's a piece of cake," Barker said. "A person with a calculator, you'd need about 31 million years."
Funded by the National Science Foundation through a grant in 2007, the supercomputer project suffered a setback about five years later when IBM Corp. pulled out, citing financial and technical reasons. Eventually, Cray Inc. took over construction of the hardware.
Last year, engineers started installing the equipment in a campus building and then ran tests on the machine, which includes thousands of processors.
Researchers won't have to travel to Urbana to use the supercomputer. With a log-in code, they'll be able to study a variety of science and engineering topics — from earthquakes to astronomy and the molecular mechanisms of disease — 365 days a year from their workspace.
The foundation will cover the supercomputer's operational costs through a separate grant that lasts five years. After the grant expires, the foundation could extend funding, opt to break the machine into smaller pieces or take it apart, Barker said.