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Weather forecasters storm into high performance computing contract

IBM and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) have signed a contract to replace the High Performance Computing Facility (HPCF) at the UK-based ECMWF centre from 2009.

IBM will provide two POWER6 clusters during 2008, each with a potential peak performance of about 145 TFlops (1012 floating point operations per second). These clusters would currently be placed in the top 10 computers in terms of performance in the world. In 2011 IBM will replace these clusters with future POWER systems.

Isabella Weger, head of the Computing Division at ECMWF, said: ‘The new computer system will help ECMWF to further improve its global numerical weather prediction models, in particular by increasing the resolution of the forecast system and by making the best use of satellite data, which will enable us to provide useful information for early warnings of severe weather events.’

Severe weather is predicted to become more frequent and more intense in some parts of the world under climate change. ECMWF will contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change by providing early warnings of severe weather. This is seen as a key contribution to help society adapt to the dangers and threats associated with global warming.

The increased time gained by such warnings will be crucial to save lives, enabling people to be evacuated from endangered areas or to take precautionary action to avoid major threats to goods during severe storms.

In 2008 IBM will provide ECMWF with new IBM POWER6 supercomputer systems that are five times more powerful than the currently installed supercomputers. This will help ECMWF to make significant improvements in medium-term weather forecasts through higher resolution models of weather systems and the capability to process massive amounts of data.

By 2011 ECMWF will receive a further doubling of performance and will be one of the first organisations worldwide to use IBM's planned future high performance computing technologies.

The hardware was financed by IBM Global Financing and the contract signed in December 2007.

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