FEATURES & COMMENTARY
San Diego, CA — Tom Foremski has reported for the Financial Times that Compaq Computer, the world’s largest PC maker, is expected to announce on Friday that it has won the contract for the world’s largest supercomputer as it seeks revenues beyond the maturing personal computer market.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded Compaq the contract for what is to be the largest supercomputer ever built. It is understood to be worth more than $100m.
It will be larger than the current largest supercomputer, ASCI White, built by IBM for the DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Compaq beat Sun Microsystems, the other bidder for the contract. The win is important for Compaq as it beefs up its large systems business based on technology from the acquisitions of Digital Equipment and Tandem Computers.
The company is in the middle of a turnaround of its business under chief executive Michael Capellas. One key plank of this reorganisation is to boost its Wildfire server business, the same technology used in its supercomputers.
The Compaq supercomputer will be capable of 30 teraflops (trillions of operations per second) of performance, almost three times faster than IBM’s ASCI White. It will be built at Los Alamos National Laboratories and one of its duties will be to help monitor US nuclear weapons stockpile.
“It will use several thousand microprocessors and will be housed in a facility that is the size of five football fields,” said a senior Compaq executive.
IBM is the leader in supercomputer installations and has vowed to leapfrog the Compaq supercomputer.
“Compaq might have bragging rights for a while but we’ll see how soon they can deliver this system. We are working on even larger systems,” said David Turek, vice president of deep computing at IBM.
The Compaq supercomputer is based on the Alpha microprocessor, a very fast chip that has made it into the Guinness Book of Records. Alpha was part of Digital Equipment acquired by Compaq in 1998.
The supercomputer win should help Compaq boost its server system business. It reported record orders for its Wildfire server products but has been unable to meet customer demand because of a chip shortage.
At its recent financial analyst conference, Compaq said it had more than $200 million in Wildfire backorders. The company said the chip shortage would not affect the supercomputer project.
Wall Street analysts are closely watching Mr Capellas to see if his turnaround strategy is working. Compaq stumbled last year with the resignation of chief executive Eckhard Pfieffer and problems in integrating the acquisition of Digital Equipment and Tandem Computers.
Success in the hotly contested large server market will be key to Compaq’s turnaround story, analysts said.