Commercial Demand for Supercomputing

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2005-06-03 Print this article Print

Regarding the commercialization of Blue Gene, can you talk about the demand and where its coming from? Interest has been very high. We have a Blue Gene Consortium which encompasses today about 45 institutions, academic research labs and partners. Awareness is extraordinarily high around the world and demand is significant as well.
Deployment in the early stages follows the classic pattern of deployment of innovative technologies, which is, youll see a lot of groundbreaking work done in government labs, research laboratories and universities, and as value is demonstrated at those types of institutions, itll carry over quickly into the more aggressive players in the industrial sector.
That model indicates that Blue Gene is refined by virtue of the fact that [it] is a very purpose-built kind of machine. Its design was never to be universal in terms of its affinity for every possible high-performance computing application. What were working through right now with a lot of our customers, partners, and technology partners and developers is to get very much a deeper understanding of where the true utility of Blue Gene sits, because, as I outlined at the outset, our play in the marketplace is really predicated on a portfolio of technologies and what we dont want to do is step all over ourselves. The reason this is important is that the principal value proposition of Blue Gene is the proposition of ultrascalability. As a consequence, what people are really looking at is the scalability of their algorithms. Are the scaling attributes of Blue Gene such that it would motivate one to redesign an algorithm, for example, with the constraints of scale that you see in that other architecture removed? That kind of yin and yang is going to go on for a bit of time, but in the meantime were deploying them essentially at max capacity and we expect that to continue over the next several years. When you announced the commercialization of Blue Gene last year, you spoke about expanding the portfolio of products based on it. Can you talk about your plans in that area? There are a couple of ways to think about this. One is whether or not there are variations on the Blue Gene designs that can be entertained. The second thing is, are there technologies, design approaches or other things coming out of Blue Gene that ought to be reflected in other parts of our product line, regardless of what the sources of the underlying technology concern? Work goes on both of those fronts on a continuing basis. The other thing is that it is becoming more powerful an issue for customers to consider the physical space of computing with the cost of operating and cooling these systems as well. So the Blue Gene design, for example, has a roughly seven to eight times advantage over other conventional architectures with respect to the consumption of electricity. … This is a serious issue, because if you look at not only the cost of electricity around the world—which varies dramatically—but if you also look at the availability of electricity around the world—that is, the fact that you might not have it 24 hours a day—one needs to begin to factor in this phenomena into the design of systems pretty directly. One of the consequences of this is that the classic rules of thumb that people have used in the past to compare systems or to assess the progress of computer design in the space are going to have to be modified to more appropriately reflect these kinds of attributes, so that instead of talking about dollars per megaflop, for example, that will probably become dollars per megaflop per kilowatt as a appropriate kind of metric. It reflects the very common-sense view that you simply cannot afford to buy something that consumes a disproportionate amount of resources to operate. As we look at our dense models of computing that revolve not only around Blue Gene but blade-based approaches to computing, these kinds of lessons are being factored in. Next Page: Blue Genes influence on other IBM product lines.


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