IBM opens specialized ‘Hipod’ lab

IBM Corp. has chosen Sao Paulo as the sixth global location for its specialized software and services laboratories known as “Hipods,” or high-performance on-demand solutions facilities, which focus on resolving large-scale computing issues for IBM customers, including eBay Inc. and Google Inc.

IBM opened the multimillion dollar Brazilian lab Tuesday. The lab will be linked to five existing Hipods worldwide — IBM’s central Hipod facility in its Santa Teresa lab in San Jose, California, and Hipod satellite operations in Beijing; Bangalore, India; Yamato, Japan; and Hursley, U.K.

Although IBM won’t put a precise financial figure on its Hipod investments, the company did give some sense of the labs’ combined computing power. Together, the six Hipods contain more than 1,000 servers, draw on over 20T bytes of data and employ more than 200 staff, according to Kristof Kloeckner, vice president of strategy and technology for IBM’s software group.

Researchers in the six Hipods can collaborate virtually with each other using grid computing to quickly form project teams and assign server, software and storage resources for a particular project. They can use their pooled resources to simulate customers’ IT environments or a particular computing issue a large user is trying to resolve.

When IBM set up its first Hipod four to five years ago, it was to create a team to build knowledge around how best to configure and build high-volume Web sites like online auction site eBay, Kloeckner said. EBay has been a major customer for IBM first in the U.S. and more recently in China, turning to the Hipods for advice on how to scale up its worldwide operations to serve 200 million users.

Over time, the Hipods teams have widened their focus to other areas including process automation, virtualization and approaches to SOA (service-oriented architecture). For instance, the labs researchers have come up with a Web-based service to determine how SOA-based workloads perform when used by businesses such as those in banking, travel and insurance.

In India, the Bangalore Hipod researchers built a service delivery platform for local mobile phone operator Bharti Airtel Ltd. to help the rapidly growing carrier handle the addition of 1 million new customers per month, Kloeckner said. Other IBM customers that have also worked with Hipods include Ford Motor Co., Gap Inc., the New York Stock Exchange, Visa International Service Association and Whirlpool Corp.

Brazil was “the obvious choice” for a Latin American Hipod given the country’s size, Kloeckner said, and also continues the vendor’s investment in Brazil.

IBM has identified five emerging markets it dubs the BRICK countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Korea — as specific nations where it’s keen to invest multimillions of dollars to attract more local customers and partners. Last year, IBM moved its Latin American headquarters from Miami to Sao Paulo. Kloeckner pointed out that IBM’s planned US$740 million acquisition of industrial asset management software vendor MRO Software Inc. announced last month will net the company an additional 40- to 50-person team in Brazil.

As to where IBM might plan to put a seventh Hipod, the “next logical move” would be Central Europe, Kloeckner said. Although no decisions have been made yet, the vendor may look to establish a Hipod in either Poland or Russia in the coming years, he added.

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