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HP offers up midmarket supercomputing

HP offers a turnkey high-performance computing system that brings a teraflop of computing power to the midmarket for less than $50,000.

In response to a rapidly growing demand in the midmarket, Hewlett-Packard Co. has announced a new entry-level high-performance computing product.

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The HP Cluster Platform Workgroup System, based on HP's new BladeSystem c3000 chassis, is expected to sell for less than $50,000. It offers nearly a teraflop of computing power in a form factor that takes up only two square feet of floor space.

"What is really striking to me here is that here you have a little roller-mounted blade system that has about the same processing capability that the world's largest supercomputer had 10 years ago," said Gordon Haff, principal IT advisor at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. "What that really means is that you don't have to be Lawrence Livermore [National Laboratory] to do supercomputing anymore."

High-performance computing (HPC), also known as supercomputing, is the use of parallel processing for running advanced, high-powered applications reliably and quickly.

Research and design organizations at companies both large and small rely on HPC technology to power engineering and design applications. In the past, only large companies could use such technology for complicated simulation and design of aircraft or electronics or for complex financial modeling. Now midmarket firms can use such high-powered computing to improve the design of simpler products.

"At Callaway Golf, they use all kinds of computer simulations to design golf clubs," Haff said. "I think that's an indication that HPC is pretty much being used just about every place."

Steve Conway, research vice president for technical computing systems at Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC, said the midmarket demand for HPC systems is exploding.

"It's growing at two to three times the pace of the enterprise market," Conway said.

He said the overall HPC market reached $10 billion in 2006 and will hit $15.5 billion in 2011. Midmarket HPC technology -- systems priced at $50,000 and below -- is the fastest-growing segment of that market, increasing at 10.8% annually.

"That little slice of the market, in 2011, will be a $4.2 billion market," Conway said. "You're getting a large influx of new users into HPC, and they are coming from desktop computing."

Conway said the HP Cluster Platform Workgroup System is a turnkey product: It's easy to buy, ease to install and easy to maintain.

"It's the first product by a really major vendor that is this much of a turnkey proposition," Conway said. "There are others out there, but they're really more from startups and they're not using mainstream technologies."

What that really means is that you don't have to be Lawrence Livermore [National Laboratory]
to do supercomputing anymore.

Gordon Haff
principal IT advisorIlluminata Inc.
Conway said HP is also innovating on the software side with this product, offering optimized applications for specific vertical industries that are sold with the hardware. Labeled Solution Blocks by HP, these configured applications will be rolled out over time. The first two Solution Blocks are available today with the new HPC product: the Accelrys Materials Studio application for materials sciences customers, and the Ansys Fluent CFD product for computer-aided engineering customers.

Ty Rabe, director of research and development in HP's high-performance computing division, said midmarket firms have used HPC applications for a while, but until recently the tools haven't performed at a satisfactory level. But Rabe said Compaq Computer Corp. offered the first teraflop system in 2001 for $5 million, so midmarket companies relied on desktops and servers to run them.

Midmarket firms often run high-performance applications on a single workstation or server. But these applications will process huge data sets so slowly that it will take weeks or months to run a job, "which isn't very useful in terms of gettng the results you want quickly," Rabe said.

Haff said the HPC needs of midmarket companies will grow in the future, but he doesn't anticipate the level of HPC expertise growing in midmarket IT organizations.

"If your skills aren't getting better and you need HPC, then vendors need to make it available as a more push-button offering," Haff said. "Others are not offering simplicity to this degree."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer

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