IBM's Cluster Bluster

Upgrades its pre-packaged cluster solution, plans to add 10-Gig Ethernet and InfiniBand

June 16, 2005

3 Min Read
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IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) today fired a shot across the bows of its high-performance computing rivals Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) with a raft of new clustering technology.

The hardware giant unveiled the latest version of its pre-packaged Linux cluster, the 1350, which now includes Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD) Opteron processor-based blades and InfiniBand switches from Voltaire Inc. (see IBM Unveils New Clustering). IBM OpenPower 710 and 720 servers also will be added to the cluster package to provide management and storage.

Rather than deploying clusters piece-by-piece, the idea is that users get a pre-tested set of solutions from IBM. Execs at the hardware vendor say that more than 100 different pieces of technology are now offered as part of the overall solution.

IBM's move underscores its desire to win data center market share, according to Gordon Haff, senior analyst at Illuminata Inc. They have been pursuing this pre-packaged clustered solution idea pretty aggressively for a few years now,” he says.

But IBM is not the only vendor looking to make a splash with its clustered offerings. Rival manufacturers HP and Sun have also been making noises in this space (see New HP Clusters Simplify HPC and Sun Intros Bioinformatics Cluster).For now, it looks as if HP and IBM are competing closely, with Sun still in early days. “Both the IBM and the HP offerings are pretty good,” Haff says. But IBM, by adding Opteron blade and InfiniBand technology, is showing itself more tightly focused on high-performance computing than its rival, which has adopted a more generic approach to selling clusters.

Bob Lenard, IBM’s director of Linux clusters, admits he has his eye on the high-performance computing market, but he won't dismiss the possibility of broader cluster deployments. “I could see customers taking this and using it in spaces that would not be seen as traditional HPC environments,” he says -- including the likes of data mining and business intelligence.

Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Inc. thinks the new Opteron blades could open doors beyond high-performance computing. ”Opteron is a superb high-performance computing solution,” he says. "But, given its compatibility with X86, Windows, and Linux applications, it can work very well as a general-purpose solution."

One thing: By offering blades based around different processors from Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and AMD, as well as its own PowerPC chips, IBM could have trouble convincing users to deploy all three. “Going to market with that kind of complex story is always a challenge,” King says.

Lenard, unsurprisingly, does not agree, insisting that “with Linux you can make Intel, PowerPC, and AMD-based blades all work together within the same rack."So, what’s next for IBM’s cluster strategy? Lenard says the vendor will be adding more switch technology in the future, particularly around 10-Gigabit Ethernet and InfiniBand, as well as expanding its clustered solution at both high and low ends.

One thing is certain: Clustering technologies are now big business. IBM Linux clusters accounted for 161 of the world’s top 500 supercomputers when the most recent list was published last year (see US Reclaims Supercomputing Crown). The latest list will be released at the International Supercomputer Conference due to kick off in Heidelberg, Germany, next week.

Sun and HP were unavailable for comment on this article.

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum

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