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September 16, 2005

SGI Aids Finnish Weather Reporting

Nicole Hemsoth

Silicon Graphics Inc. and Finnish IT systems distributor Atea have assisted the Finnish Meteorological Institute with the selection of SGI's Altix computer to deliver increasingly accurate land, high-altitude and marine weather predictions for Finland.

At FMI, half of the new Altix will be dedicated to more highly defined climate modeling and research for national and international atmospheric efforts, especially for monitoring the greenhouse effect and global warming. The remaining half of the new supercomputer is targeted to provide more detailed and improved short-term weather forecasting from combined observational and satellite data.

A long-time SGI and Atea customer, FMI, with 550 employees, wanted to replace older computers with the Altix system running Linux, as well as to easily port complex mathematical codes representing higher definition climate models.

“We chose the SGI Altix because of the computer's shared memory architecture, which means that every processor has access to the complete memory; this makes it a very strong general purpose machine that is easy to port software to,” said Johan Silen, IT director for FMI. “The other reason we chose the SGI system is that the Itanium 2 processor is a very powerful processor. The benchmarks we ran for our operational code were completely superior to any of the competitors.”

Another reason FMI chose Altix is its flexibility. FMI plans initially to segment the system's processors into a larger and a smaller configuration to ensure there is always processing power for detailed weather predictions. Smaller models can be run on the smaller configuration while high-resolution regional modeling codes, used by international organizations, will run on the larger group of 256 CPUs. This segmentation can be changed on the fly, allocating all the processors to one job or making a number of different configurations.

“The Altix is a very special kind of machine because you can combine and scale it to a very large number of CPUs, but you can also segment it into separate, independent units. Processing power left over from our operational needs will be used for the mathematics research, especially for climatology modeling on the greenhouse effects,” said Silen. “The essential thing the Altix will allow us to do is double the resolution of our weather codes, which means we double the accuracy of our predictions. And when you double resolution, the calculation burden is a factor of 16 or larger. Further, it was one of the requirements that the Altix perform higher resolution calculations at a factor of 36, for the HIRLAM (High Resolution Limited Area Model), which is used to improve the reliability of one to two day regional forecasts, and the Altix platform has already proven it can do that quite well.”

FMI's main objective is to provide the best possible information about the atmosphere above and around Finland, and to ensure public safety relating to atmospheric and airborne hazards. FMI is also active in European research and development programs in the fields of atmospheric sciences, environment, marine sciences, energy, dispersion and transport and Arctic monitoring through more than 100 individual projects. FMI actively participates in European Union research programs especially on the topics of stratospheric ozone depletion, climate and atmospheric composition changes, wind energy, Baltic Sea pollution and urban air pollution.