IBM Grows Grid Iron

There’s growth in grids. IBM said in response to increasing worldwide demand for supercomputing resources, it is expanding the availability of computer resources available through its computing on demand program.

IBM also said it would for the first time offer significant Unix-based capacity based on its Power 5+ architecture.

One company already on board is MSC Software. The computer-aided-engineering vendor said it plans to tap IBM’s Deep Computing Capacity on Demand (DCCOD) system to offer customers simulation solutions for automotive and aerospace applications.

In total, IBM will add more than 15 teraflops of computing power via a combination of systems based on its IBM BlueGene supercomputer architecture, AMD Opteron-based blade servers and Power5+ systems. In total, IBM said it’s making 10,000 CPUs available worldwide.

But the movement to bladed systems is where IBM sees it gaining the most volume growth. “When I started this business three years ago, we were using the 1u pizza box-shaped servers. Now, forty percent of our business, not including BlueGene, is blades,” David Gelardi, vice president of deep computing at IBM, told “Over the course of the next year I expect us to move to one hundred percent blade form factor.”

While on-demand customers don’t buy hardware (that’s the point), Gelardi said the advent of blades is letting IBM pack computing technology more densely, simplify networking and servicing and pass savings on to customers.

Cost savings and further technology advances could jumpstart the emerging utility computing market, which has great promise. The basic benefit is companies don’t have to make extra investments in hardware they use infrequently. Rather, they can tap a remote “on demand” system for less cost and system management headaches.

One barrier to further adoption is the basic mindset of large companies used to having control of their hardware systems in-house. Gelardi thinks there’s growing acceptance of the new model.

“I am anticipating substantial market maturity in 2006,” said Gelardi. “My confidence factor is quite high that running computational workloads offsite is becoming more acceptable. Companies are looking at their computing as more of a portfolio and we have elements we can add to that portfolio.”

HP and Sun have also pushed strongly into the on demand or utility computing space. Sun offers the kind of traditional service and support contract IBM and HP does, but has also pioneered new ground with its flat rate, $1 per CPU hour program with its Sun Grid, payable via credit card.

Gilardi was dismissive of the concept. “Get out your credit card? Get real, this is a business, not a toy. If I’m going to close a contract with a client where we talk about serviceability, service levels and more, that’s not a transaction I’m going to make over the Internet.”

But Aisling MacRunnels, senior director of utility computing at Sun , said IBM is afraid of flat-rate pricing because it makes more money in complex consulting and service contracts.

“We believe SunGrid demonstrates the inefficiencies of the old model,” MacRunnels told “There’s nothing hidden, we don’t pass on extra costs.”

Gilardi further argued that IBM can offer a greater range of solutions by dealing directly with the customer. “The reality of the situation is that a capacity on demand model for any enterprise requires a certain amount of customization to effectively connect with the customer.”

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