Toronto’s Platform Computing acquired by IBM

IBM on Monday added to its long list of Canadian software acquisitions with the purchase of Platform Computing, a company whose ability to manage “grids” of computing workloads will help Big Blue make gains in the cloud computing market.

Based in Toronto, Platform employs approximately 500 employees and first gained attention in the late 1990s with its Load Sharing Facility (LSF), which allowed IT departments to set business policies so they could effectively put resources into the hands of the people who need them most. This focus on network load balancing gave Platform an early advantage in what became known as grid computing, where enterprises focused on distributing computing resources transparently among a large number of users, in effect turning a server cluster or a computer farm into what appears from the user’s desktop to be a single supercomputer or mainframe.  

Much like virtualization software, grid computing and network load balancing is becoming a critical part of cloud computing, especially as third-party public cloud providers want to ensure the optimum level of service to customers.

Platform and IBM have worked together for many years. Five years ago, Platform was among the firms chosen for Big Blue’s “Grid and Grow” program, which ensured products interoperated with IBM’s suite. In some areas, however, they were competitors. For example, IBM earlier this year launched its HPC Management Suite for Cloud, whereas Platform Computing began offering tools to let its customers build private clouds out of multiple clusters since 1999.

In January, Platform Computing  released version 2.1 of Platform ISF with a focus on providing IT admins an easy-to-use tool for cloud resource management, or as one executive described it, a “single cloud pane.” Platform ISF combines the company’s resource sharing technology, EGO, with its Virtual Machine Orchestrator (VMO) into a product that integrates with heterogeneous distributed IT resources in data centres.
Big Blue said Platform Computing will become part of its Systems and Technology Group, which includes System x, BladeCenter, Power Systems and System Storage, among other products. IBM said Platform Computing’s 2000 clients include 23 of the top 30 largest global enterprises such as CERN, Citigroup, Infineon, Pratt & Whitney, Red Bull Racing, Sanger Institute, Statoil and University of Tokyo.  

In a conference call following the announcement, Dr. Songnian Zhou, CEO, Platform Computing, highlighted Canadian Platform Computing customers including Bombardier, Royal Bank and ATI (now part of AMD). He said the company has witnessed a tremendous movement towards high-performance computing in organizations of all sizes.

“People tend to do more and more computing. To out-compete, one needs to out-compute,” he said. “Computing is simply the third way, in addition to theory and experimenting, to do things better.”

IBM vice-president of high-performance computing Brian Connors said details of the product integration will not be clear until after the 90-day close of the deal, during which both firms will continue to act independently. He said the IBM HPC Management Suite for Cloud is slated to go to market in the second quarter or first half of next year.
“It’s fair to say we’ll look at synergies (with Platform Computing’s ISF) along the way to make sure we have the most efficient product going forward,” he said, adding that the biggest opportunity from the acquisition comes from Platform Computing’s ability to speed up performance in high-performance computing clusters in technical computing environments. “I don’t want to oversell this as a cloud acquisition initiative.”

IDC Canada analyst David Senf said IBM’s acquisition of Platform Computing will help drive activity in the Asia/Pacific and Japanese market while deeping its penetration in other vertical industries.

“IBM marketing and channel reach should build opportunities for Platform to further address adjacent markets of high-end clustering into analytics, cloud and disaster recovery,” he said, adding that Big Blue has a positive track record for supporting the growth of acquisitions, while limiting disruption of staff and existing strategies such as product roadmaps and sales. “We expect the treatment of Platform to follow this path too.”

Connors said it was too early to tell what IBM will do in terms of staffing and layoffs, but that “clearly Markham is the hub” of the Platform Computing business, but confirmed that Zhou will stay on with the combined organization.

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