In describing the HPC industry’s adoption of clusters, my friend and colleague Chris Willard recently said, “The revolution is over. The revolutionaries
That’s pretty much right. It’s almost to the point where “HPC cluster” is redundant. Most systems – unless they are very small – are run as clusters.
Major vendors switched over their product emphases, and there has been a proliferation of smaller HPC cluster vendors specializing in Linux for
the last 10+ years.
Another compelling trend has been the industry’s move away from HPC-specific architectures. With a few notable exceptions (e.g., Cray XT4, SGI Altix,
IBM Blue Gene, and arguably various offerings from Linux Networx), the server products used in HPC are the same products used in enterprise computing.
They may be repackaged or reconfigured for HPC, but the underlying R&D is leveraged across a broader market.
With these trends in mind, it’s caught my attention that three relatively new companies are focusing on tightly-coupled architectures specifically
designed for HPC – Liquid Computing, SiCortex, and Convey.
Liquid Computing is the most established of the three. I first came across them in 2005 as they were ramping up toward the launch of their LiquidIQ
architecture. In 2006 they won the HPCwire Editor’s Choice Award for Most Significant New HPC Hardware Product or Technology, and they began general
availability in October. In March of this year they announced a significant product acceptance with the U.S. Army.
Based in Ottawa, Liquid Computing also seems to be part of a growing Canadian presence among vendors across the HPC ecosystem. Platform (grid and cluster
management in Markham, ON), Acceleware (accelerated applications in Calgary), RapidMind (multi-core optimization in Waterloo, ON), and PlateSpin
(datacenter virtualization in Toronto) all come to mind immediately. Maybe it’s due to superior cooling.
Right behind Liquid Computing is SiCortex, based in Maynard, MA. Under the tagline “TeraFlops from Milliwatts,” SiCortex has shipped a few early-access
systems, and it looks like they’ll be ready to make a move in conjunction with SC07. SiCortex is currently riding the low-power wave, and their
architecture does create power consumption advantages. But with their HPC-specific design, I won’t be shocked if performance and productivity take
over as the main headlines soon.
Convey is still under the radar, and there’s not a lot of publicly released information yet. It suffices to say that Bruce Toal has left HP and rounded
up some of the old Convex gang. (Presumably Bruce will launch a third company called “Convez” later this lifetime.) And if Convey launches a vanilla
cluster, I’ll eat an Ethernet cable.
To review: Clusters have taken over, and leveraged architectures rule. Three new companies are bucking that trend. My analysis: Not a bad idea. I still
think there are substantial pockets of users out there who are looking for something different. If these companies can compete on delivered productivity
instead of raw flops per dollar, one or more could have a significant impact in the market.