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    FSU's newest recruit is an $8-million computer

    The most powerful university computer in the nation will help with forecasts and discoveries.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 15, 2000

    TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State University has captured another No. 1 ranking, but this one has nothing to do with football or top-notch partying.

    FSU is now home to the most powerful supercomputer owned by any university in the United States, officials say.

    The $8-million IBM RS/6000 SP is expected to help researchers more accurately forecast and track hurricanes, forest fires and financial markets, and to speed discoveries about everything from genetics to robots.

    "It will make Florida State a national leader in the area of computational science and information technology," said university system Chancellor Adam Herbert, who joined Gov. Jeb Bush and FSU president Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte at a news conference Monday to announce the purchase.

    The supercomputer will produce hurricane forecasts 100 times more accurate than those now produced by FSU researchers, said Lawrence Abele, FSU's provost and vice president for academic affairs. Better forecasts mean more warning for residents in storm-prone areas, and more time to save lives and protect property.

    "Forecasting is not an exact science," Bush said. "With this computer, it will become more exact."

    The supercomputer is a descendant of "Deep Blue," the IBM computer that defeated chess master Garry Kasparov in 1997. It is capable of 2.5 "teraflops" -- computer-speak for 2.5-trillion calculations per second.

    In other words, the supercomputer can do in one second what it would take a person with an ordinary calculator 2-million years to perform, D'Alemberte said. It also will have enough memory to store the equivalent of more than five times the number of cataloged books in the Library of Congress.

    "I had to be taught (a teraflop) was not a gymnastics trick," D'Alemberte joked.

    The supercomputer will strengthen FSU's mission to be a world-class research university, Herbert said. The machine was bought with state funds and grants from the federal Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    The supercomputer is a row of large, black rectangular frames that look like oversize refrigerators and are housed at Innovation Park in Tallahassee. The frames now hold 168 processors. By 2002, officials said, the frames will contain 680 processors and will give FSU more supercomputing power than any university in the world.

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