by CIO Staff

Smaller Companies Eye Supercomputing

Nov 15, 20053 mins
Enterprise Architecture

Golf club maker Ping Inc. is not a typical supercomputing user. It’s not making airplanes, looking for oil or investigating proteins. It is, instead, a company with 1,000 employees that designs golf clubs.

But this midsize company may represent a big part of the future of supercomputing.

Ping is using a Cray Inc. supercomputer built with Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Opteron chips to run simulations of golf club designs. And Eric Morales, staff engineer at Ping, said supercomputing has allowed the Phoenix-based golf club maker to drastically reduce development time. Cray earlier this month announced Ping’s use of its XD1 system, which can support 12 to 800 processing cores.

“It takes the development from weeks down to days, and it helps us get to market faster,” said Morales. Simulations of product changes that once took a full day to run can now be processed in 20 minutes or less.

Morales believes many other midsize companies will turn to supercomputing — and if the attendance at this year’s Supercomputing 2005 is any indication, high-performance computing is drawing a lot more interest. As of Sunday, some 8,600 people had registered for the conference, with Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates expected to give the conference keynote tomorrow. Conference attendance is up about 10 percent from last year.

That Gates would turn his attention to a conference where most of the sessions are about technical supercomputing issues is a signal of Microsoft’s growing interest in this market.

Price/performance improvements, due in part to systems using x86-based chips, are making supercomputing more accessible to businesses, according to vendors. The Top500 supercomputer list, released earlier Monday at the show, showed large gains in the use of commodity chips.

Dave Turek, vice president of IBM Deep Computing, said demand for supercomputing is being driven by a number of forces, including the creation of new businesses that rely heavily on high-performance systems, such as digital animation and bioinformatics. Supercomputing “is also being driven by vast amounts of data that demand rapid analysis for real-time decision-making,” he said.

Turek pointed in particular to RFID-enabled devices, which can be used to track product shipments, as capable of “generating huge amounts of data.”

While enterprise vendors are making capacity-on-demand systems available for processing large amounts of data, Turek doesn’t believe those systems will account for more than 10 percent of the market.

Ed Turkel, manager of product marketing and high performance computing at Hewlett-Packard Co., said high-performance clusters, ranging from 32 to 64 nodes (a node is typically a two-processor system), are being increasingly adopted in industrial markets. Microsoft offers its own cluster product, which Turkel believes will help HP sell high-performance clusters to more commercial users.

By Patrick Thibodeau, Computerworld