IBM Debuts New Line Of Supercomputer Clusters

IBM on Tuesday unveiled a new line of pre-packaged supercomputer clusters, dubbed Departmental Supercomputing Solutions, that targets small and midsize organizations.

April 7, 2004

4 Min Read
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IBM on Tuesday unveiled a new line of pre-packaged supercomputer clusters, dubbed Departmental Supercomputing Solutions, that targets small- and mid-sized organizations.The idea, said Herb Schultz, of IBM's Deep Computing division, is to make supercomputer-sized clusters available to a wider range of businesses, universities, and research centers.

"We're strong at the high end of the HPC (high-performance computing) market," said Schultz, "But even though we know that most of the opportunities are in the lower end, we've not focused on that. This is the first of many elements that will raise awareness of IBM in the lower-end clustering space."

IBM's new Solutions are actually pre-packaged, pre-tested clusters that offer customers a turnkey supercomputer, more or less, said Schultz. The clusters, which are pre-loaded with either Linux or Microsoft Windows operating systems, come in several configurations.

Each cluster consists of servers for running applications, a management server to administer the cluster, and a network interconnect to allow communication between the servers, said IBM. "All the computing elements and switches, and the management server, are integrated in the racks," said Schultz, "then tested with different software components. The operating systems are put on and various workloads are run on the cluster before it leaves the factory."

The underlying servers vary depending on the configuration purchased, and include IBM's eServer Blade Center HS20 -- a 7U chassis that can accommodate up to 14 two-way blades -- the eServer xSeries 335, and the eServer 325. IBM will populate the servers with either Intel's Xeon processor or AMD's 64-bit Opteron.The application servers are matched with an IBM eServer xSeries 345 management server which handles all the cluster administration chores via an Ethernet virtual LAN (VLAN). Each cluster configuration also sports a separate Gigabit Ethernet VLAN to connect all the servers for application internode communications and a terminal server network for remote console applications.

Although the current configurations don't come pre-loaded with applications for the target customers -- which include business research and development departments, universities, the financial and securities markets, and oil and gas exploration -- IBM is working with a number of application makers to deliver what Schultz called "personalities" to the clusters in the near future.

IBM is close to wrapping up a deal with Gaussian, a producer of research software for chemists, chemical engineers, biochemists, and physicists, that will let the Armonk, N.Y-based computer maker pre-load applications to clusters destined for that market, said Schultz. "The goal for next quarter is to have applications pre-loaded on these systems," he said. A half dozen cluster "personalities" are scheduled to be available by the end of 2004.

The top end of the Solutions, said Schultz, is a 32 node composed of two-way servers or blades, and is priced in the $200,000 range. At the low end, IBM will configure a four-node cluster built on two-way Xeon- or Opteron-equipped blades or servers for around $35,000 to $38,000.

Although customers can deviate from the pre-configured clusters, that's not the intent of the new offerings, said Schultz. "We've really optimized the clusters at these price points, so while customers have the flexibility to add more memory, for instance, if they start mixing and matching nodes, they'll not see the savings we intend."IBM sees opportunity at the low end of clustering, but Schultz said that end can be pushed only so low, at least for now.

"The bottom is probably something like the $25,000 range," he said. "Even with the cheap blades, you have to have an infrastructure around them. And there's a certain level of complication around clustering [that scares some customers away]. We've tried to marginalize the problems as much as possible, take barriers away, but there's only so far you can go."

But IBM's also thinking the Departmental Supercomputing Solutions might see some traction in larger companies that are thinking of signing up with the company's Capacity On Demand Center. The Center, based in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., offers outsourced supercomputing horsepower, delivered via a secure virtual private network (VPN) connection over the Internet.

"We're talking internally about using some of these [Solutions] to put a cluster on a customer's site to get them ready for On Demand," Schultz said. 'Having a small cluster in house would not only make [larger businesses] more proficient in what they're doing, but it might drive their interest in using the On Demand Center."

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