reTHINKing the Network
reTHINKing the Network
What is… The IBM Watson Supercomputer?

On February 14-16, IBM will debut a new generation of “super” computers with the televised introduction of Watson. With the help of Juniper’s EX Ethernet Switches, running on the Junos operating system, IBM’s Watson super computer will compete on the CBS television network game show Jeopardy! over three episodes.


As the IBM team prepares for what is to be another historic showdown of computer vs. human, a slough of television commercials and YouTube clips have sent the media into a frenzy. Who will take the title of Jeopardy champion? If history repeats itself like Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer from 1997 that defeated the reigning world chess champion, Watson will get victoriously wheeled out of the studio, sure to get its own page in the history books. However, unlike its predecessor, Watson must quickly decipher English language clues ahead of its human competitors.


Can it be done against these Jeopardy champs? We’ll have to wait to see but one thing we know:  in addition to IBM world-class servers, storage, software and years of innovation to make the latest IBM super computer that is Watson, it also takes world-class high performance networking.  Powering the networking required for Watson are 1 IBM  J16E (EX8216) switches populated with 15 10 GbE line cards and 1 GbE line card, as well as 3 IBM J48E (EX4200) switches in a virtual chassis configuration, all running Juniper’s Junos network operating system. Junos enables IBM to easily manage and deploy those three IBM J48E switches in a single virtual chassis configuration.  What is……a Virtual Chassis? This flexible, high scaling switch solution brings together several switches to form one unit and allows customers to operate the unit as if it were within a single chassis.  Up to 10 of the IBM J48E switches can be interconnected over 128 Gbps backplane providing up to a total of 480 access ports. The J16E (EX8216) with its massively scalable 12.4 Tbps fabric, 2 billion packets-per-second (pps) line-rate performance and ability to aggregate as many as 6,000 servers in a single domain, delivers high-performance networking that is particularly well suited for mission critical supercomputing platforms such as Watson. IBM trusted Juniper’s EX switches running Junos to brand them as their own, and power the network required for Watson. Phew! Wonder if that will be a Jeopardy question?


Together as industry thought leaders, IBM and Juniper are on the cutting edge of innovative networking products and software. Through our long standing strategic alliance, we offer data center solutions such as IBM zBX, Smart Analytics, iDataplex and CSP2 (if need to spell that out for you, please check out this innovative cloud platform at  that help customers build cloud-ready data centers for their next generation applications.  As IBM advances the capabilities of hardware and software, like in the Watson supercomputer, the network becomes an increasingly important part of delivering applications that rely on Juniper for the high performance networking solutions required.


As we wait for what we hope will be another monumental television experience, IBM and Juniper are committed to excellence and innovation. What is… The Future?  Stay tuned!



Gene H

What operating system is the IBM Watson supercomputer running?

Ed H


The Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server v11 OS is what is running Watson.

Details of this is at


Stephen N

What network topology does Watson use? Is it some form of star, mesh, torus or hypercube or something different? I am writing a paper on Watson for a computer architecture class, this article really helps me with the network components part, but I would appreciate some help with how all the servers are actually connected together with Juniper's hardware.   Thanks!


Thanks for your question.  In Watson, each server had one 10Gb fiber optic connection to the Juniper switch via flat layer2 vLAN.


Got wM