High-performance computing (HPC) could be one of the UK’s fastest growing markets despite the looming recession. Among integrators, VARs and new entrants in to the market, competition is rife for contracts, according to channel players.
Julian Fielden, managing director of IBM reseller OCF, said customers have
traditionally seen HPC as a vendor play, but the deals are out there. “This can
make winning business tough with an influx of resellers and integrators.”
He added that the UK HPC channel market is relatively small, with only a handful of channel players able to integrate complete HPC solutions.
Blade servers, which can use half the floor space in a datacentre and half the energy of traditional servers, plus a range of storage options can be explored, such as Raid, storage area network (SAN), network attached storage (NAS), hierarchical storage management (HSM), tape libraries and silos.
“Resellers should be looking to sell a scalable, high-performance file system with information lifecycle management (ILM) capabilities, such as IBM’s general parallel file system (GPFS), to keep up with the demands of real-time data processing,” Fielden claimed.
Clusters as a driving force
In May, analyst IDC released a paper called HPC Management Software: Reducing the Complexity of HPC Cluster and Grid Resources, suggesting that clusters have pushed the HPC market from $5.7bn in 2003 to $11.6bn in 2007.
IDC projected that clusters will drive HPC server revenue to nearly $18bn in 2012, with much of the growth taking place at the low end of the market where HPC skills are lacking.
OCF offers a cluster management and support service that helps customers focus all available IT department resources to non-HPC- related queries and user problems.
“We are seeing great growth potential in support services. Not many IT departments have experience of HPC systems,” Fielden claimed. According to Fielden, Microsoft’s Compute Cluster Server, a Windows-based, more user-friendly alternative to the Linux operating system, is broadening the market and helping to popularise HPC implementations.
Dr Michael Newberry, HPC product manager at Microsoft UK, said the software
giant would release new versions of its HPC offerings.
“HPC is all about speed. Next month Microsoft is due to release the new version of its Windows HPC server 2008,” he said.
“HPC is a growing market because it is being adopted in new areas all the time.”
HPC management software
The IDC paper highlighted HPC self-assembled by users, supplied by hardware vendors and by software specialists as three areas of potential management software development.
End users assembling HPC themselves can purchase pre-integrated management software from various sources although there is a risk the software components may not interoperate with each other or with other components of the software rack, such as the operating system or application software.
HPC hardware OEMs are bundling HPC management software with computer systems. But IDC noted that the quality and capabilities of HPC vendors varies greatly.
Some integrators will play one hardware vendor off another, or propose
solutions based on hardware outside of the traditional tier- one manufacturers.
“It is essential for customers to know that integrators have a close relationship with the primary hardware supplier,” Fielden said.
A single IT vendor cannot always supply the whole HPC solution, he added.
IDC hazards that buying HPC management software supplied by software specialists increases the chance that a product will work well, but does not guarantee it. Resellers should remember that not all vendors are experts in the range of management software available.
Songnian Zhou, chief executive and founder of HPC software management vendor Platform Computing, said HPC was one of the fastest growing markets. “IDC recently reported that HPC server revenues are growing 20 per cent per year. It is cheaper for a customer to simulate products than to make them,” Zhou said.
Platform Computing has more than 30 partners in Europe, and IDC has placed it as the market’s top HPC software management vendor.
The next stage for HPC management software may be to move into the direction of utility computing, where underlying infrastructure is considered less important. Infrastructural independence will be an attractive proposition for most HPC market sectors, notably the financial services industry, according to IDC.
“The use of HPC in mainstream business environments is growing fast too, not least in banking and finance, media, aerospace and defence, retail, automotive and motorsport, energy and utilities,” said Fielden.
Platform Computing serves sectors such as electronics, industrial manufacturing, financial services, government and education. “Different sectors operate in different ways. Government is better off working with large integrators, whereas part suppliers are best suited for the manufacturing industry,” said Zhou.
Fielden concluded: “Environmentally conscious customers will be looking for integrators that can meet their computing needs and their green needs. This means designing more complex solutions using larger numbers of lower-powered processors or vastly improved efficiency using virtualisation technology.”
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