Big Blue aims supercomputing at enterprises

A familiar user interface might help high performance compute cluster (HPCC) technology gain traction in the mid-market and enterprise crowd, according to IBM.

The Armonk, NY-based company announced Thursday Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 – a compute cluster platform built on top of Windows Server 2003 – for the IBM Cluster 1350, which itself received an upgrade to include IBM’s multi-core processor-based BladeCenter and System x servers, and new networking and storage options.

Wendy McGee, director of System x for IBM cluster solutions, said the company has identified the financial services arena as an opportunity where high performance computing cluster technology stands to make a presence, including Wall Street’s trading floor.

“The Nasdaq and New York Stock Exchange are going to need infrastructures, systems and solutions created to do highly intense computations,” said McGee.

Furthermore, she said, complex data analysis on stocks can be facilitated with super computing. “You can’t predict stocks, but there are historical trends and data analysis trends that can go in to help predicting that.”

According to McGee, over the past 12 months, the number of financial services customers of this technology have increased significantly, which is partly due to bolstered marketing on IBM’s part. Besides academia and finance, she anticipates increased uptake in computer-aided engineering, such as for crash simulation applications.

HPCC has appeared to be more often used in academic research, as in this past year when Dell’s cluster computing technology was applied to the study of rock fracture dynamics at the University of Toronto’s department of civil engineering to capture and analyze in real time 400 megabytes of data per second.

High-performance computing has actually been around for many years in the financial services sector, said Jason Bremner, director of infrastructure hardware at Toronto, Ont-based analyst firm IDC Canada. “Specifically around clusters, some of them are using clusters more. But they are fairly invested in high performance computing for many years whether on a workstation or server.”

Bremner said it’s not the case that HPCC hasn’t made inroads in financial services as compared to academia. “You’re not going to walk into a local branch and expect them to have a compute cluster in the back. But they certainly would have HPC in specialized areas in the financial community, particularly around derivatives planning and derivatives trading.”

One possible reason for the misperception, he said, is that financial services firms—banks and insurance companies—tend to shy away from making such public announcements about their IT infrastructure. But as vendors start offering cluster configuration, like Microsoft’s Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, and as it becomes more affordable, the analyst believes cluster technology will be very appealing for the mid-market and enterprise users.

“Financial services and other industries can get into a more rich, robust server platform by having a cluster of servers as compared to having one server for lots and lots of CPUs,” said Bremner.

Reliability is also key to adoption, he said. “Windows server operating systems were not as comparable in terms of uptime and performance that you would have seen in a Unix operating system or to some extent the Linux operating system.”

But customer interest will pique as operating systems become more robust and optimized for the compute cluster, as with Microsoft’s release, he said.

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