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Dell, nVidia Make Their Presence Known in HPC

Is high performance computing (HPC) hot? If this week's Supercomputing 08 show is any measure, the answer is yes. In a down economy, one week before a major American holiday, the show still drew 10,000 people to Austin, Texas. That's more than Microsoft's recent PDC and WinHEC developer shows drew combined.

The annual show highlights all the latest discoveries and new products in high performance computing. It was where the most recent Top 500 list of supercomputers was unveiled earlier this week as well.

Two of the biggest newsmakers from the show are two firms not normally associated with the HPC market, but making increasing waves: Dell and nVidia.

Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) is based in Austin, so CEO Michael Dell didn't have to drive very far to appear as a keynote speaker. Dell spoke of what he called the fourth wave of supercomputing built on commodity hardware and affordable to the masses thanks to falling prices.

He announced a supercomputer his firm has built with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and several other companies called "Hyperion," a 98 teraflop supercomputer to help study advanced hardware technologies such as data storage and interconnections.

Just as you can build your own desktop or laptop, you can build your own HPC system from a Dell Web site. The firm ranked third among vendors on the Top 500 list, with 19 computers on the listing.

Dr. Reza Rooholamini, director of Dell's Clustering and Solutions Group, reckons there might be more that could make the list but the firms that owned them did not wish to submit their names to the list.

"Dell is a serious player. They have really ramped up their organization for the HPC market," said Steve Conway, an analyst for IDC who specializes in the HPC market. "They are really playing the standard solution game very heavily."

Rooholamini said Dell has its own way of competing against HP (NYSE: HPQ) and IBM (NYSE: IBM), which dominate the supercomputing market: simplicity.

"The goal for us has been to make this way of building and delivering these supercomputers industry accepted and industry practiced," he told InternetNews.com. "We never set off to have any technological differentiation. The way we deliver is different, we give customers all they need or what they need to actually build one of these themselves. I think these are all differentiators."

Dell builds and certifies the supercomputer and applications that will run on it independently and then sends it to the customer site, where it can be quickly assembled, said Rooholamini, rather than delivering a lot of boxes and a bunch of engineers to build it on site. This allows for faster deployment, which customers care about, he said.

Next page: nVidia graduates from games to HPC