IBM snags $500 million supercomputer contract from NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week awarded IBM a contract with a ceiling value of $502 million over 10 years for a Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputer System.

In 2002, NOAA awarded the company a $224.2 million, nine-year contract for the lease of a supercomputer at an IBM facility in Gaithersburg, Md., and a backup supercomputer at a NASA facility in Fairmont, W.Va.

Neither NOAA nor IBM responded to requests from Nextgov for details on the services, hardware and software that will be provide under the contract.

NOAA, in a Dec. 21, 2010, request for proposals, said the new primary and backup Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputing System will replace the current operational supercomputers at the National Weather Service Centers for Environmental Prediction headquartered in Camp Springs, Md.

In its supercomputer strategic plan released in October 2008, NOAA said it needed supercomputers that operate at petaflop speeds (1 quadrillion mathematical operations per second). "However, NOAA's high-performance computing capabilities have fallen to more than an order of magnitude behind other U.S. agencies with leadership-class systems, such as the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, who also work on aspects of climate and weather research," the plan said.

NOAA said it needed increased supercomputer horsepower to improve, among other things, its hurricane forecast capabilities.