back to article My other supercomputer is a Lenovo: What IBM System x sale means for HPC

Back in May 2013, when IBM was first rumoured to be selling part of its System x division to Lenovo, I wrote a story looking at how this might impact IBM’s position in the HPC market. It’s a good time to revisit that analysis and see what the picture looks like now. As I noted in the prior story, it’s damned hard to get solid …

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Skills?

Lenovo may have bought IBM's x86 server division, but did they also buy any expertise to build an HPC system? Any hardware vendor can sell you a few million dollars/pounds of hardware, but you need skill to turn it into a well performing system.

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Re: Skills?

The reports state that about 7,500 people worldwide are being transferred to Lenovo. Obviously, some of these people will be involved in manufacturing and sales, but there is plenty of scope for the x86 iDataPlex and NeXtScale engineers and architects to be among them.

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Re: Skills?

Who told you IBM or any of the tier 1 companies have in house HPC skills for x86. They don't!

Power, absolutely, but not in x86

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Skills?

Even if there are skilled people being transferred to Lenovo, they will be the sort of people who can walk into jobs elsewhere. Given that Lenovo will likely tell them their job's going to Bratislava or wherever, there's not really much incentive for them to stay.

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Re: Skills?

I'm really curious what you think is difficult about HPC. Sure, there are a lot of details that contribute to a good cluster, but they're nothing magic. Manage reliability while containing cost. Choose enough but not too much cpu/memory/net/disk. Keep packages up-to-date but don't upset users with too much churn. These are all very straightforward ops things, nothing exotic.

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Anonymous Coward

IBM will slide further down

Within the next 18 months, four top 100 Power systems will be decommissioned in the UK. The larger two are going to be replaced by Cray systems, and will probably not be on the November 2014 list. The vendor for the replacement of the other two has yet to be decided, but the expected decommissioning date of those IBM systems is sometime in Q3 2015.

But one thing is likely. That customer will probably not buy a system from a Chinese vendor!

With the apparent lack of a follow-on to the p7-IH systems, IBM will have to rely on the BlueGene and bespoke systems. I have heard nothing about a successor to BlueGene-Q, and I'm afraid that I believe that PureFlex systems (with the chassis, power and networking components made in China and probably branded Lenovo) cannot cut the mustard when it comes to very large systems.

This means that as the existing IBM x86_64, hybrid, BlueGene and IH systems age and either drop down the list, or are decommissioned, IBM's rank in the HPC world will drop.

And from what I have heard, IBM may not even be able to act as an integrator for HPC systems made from components bought from other manufacturers, as many of the people involved in the bidding, design and implementation of the currently installed systems are on the list to be transferred to Lenovo!

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Re: IBM will slide further down

You're making a great point in your comments above. Lenovo will absolutely face problems with trying to replace govt. and lab systems. How much of a problem? I'm not sure yet but am asking around. I'll post a follow up story as I find out more. Thanks for the great comment!

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Re: IBM will slide further down

Why is the mustard so hard to cut? Do you mean "that customer" is just pathologically risk-averse?

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Fiction

That's of course assuming that Lenovo would have won all the contracts that IBM won. My guess is, the next time the US DoD is in the market for a new supercomputer, they will not buy a 'chinese' Lenovo supercomputer, but they might buy a home-brew combination created by systems integrator IBM from IBM blue gene systems and Lenovo x86 systems - and that computer will still be listed as an IBM supercomputer.

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Re: Fiction

Yep, that's another great point and something that I've been considering. Most of the industry system components are manufacturered. Systems vendors today are much more assemblers and integrators than anything else. So how much difference is there really between a Lenovo branded system or a rebadged IBM set of boxes? Technically? Probably none. But according to procurement rules, probably it's the difference between a completed deal and a quick rejection.

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question being, what sort of bank would use a chinese made mini computer given all we've heard about hardware backdoors?

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Anonymous Coward

question being, what sort of bank would use a chinese made mini computer given all we've heard about hardware backdoors?

Probably the same bank who buys an American one now we all know about NSA backdoors.

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Anonymous Coward

"Systems using IBM’s own chips plus a scattering of systems using SPARC and other technologies account for a meager 9 per cent of the 500 biggest HPC boxes in 2013."

What percentage of the 'other technologies' are non-HP Itanics? :-)

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Hmm....

I took a quick scan through the lastest Top500 list and, not surprisingly, didn't see any Itanium based systems on the list. It's not surprising, since these boxes were mainly sold to customers who need large SMP instances. There also aren't very many HPC apps available for HP-UX, which is a huge hurdle as well.

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IBM Blue Gene powerful!

Yeah the first Blue Gene HPCs were mighty powerful and fast, it had ranking 7 at the top500. And what cpus did it sport? Well, dual core PowerPCs at 750MHz. Not the fast POWER cpus, but the PowerPC - the same as used for embedded systems and other low power configurations. I dont know if Blue Gene has been upgraded, to 1.2GHz cpus today?

My point is, in the HPC arena, what is important is performance/watt. You need low wattage hardware. And the main problem is to distribute the workload to the cpus, so it does not really matter if the cpus are lesser. You dont need the fastest cpu, but you need the fastest interconnect and low power cpus. I heard that the power bill for a HPC supercomputer can be 10 million USD, annually.

Just because a cpu is used in the Top500 list, it only says it has good performance/watt. It says nothing how powerful they are.

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