It's a fairly well-known secret in server circles that while most of the market is seeing hard times, the high-end side is proving to be rather resistant to economic turmoil.
That's not to say that the market hasn't seen some erosion in the past year, but it's a far cry from the 20 percent-plus declines that the x86 crowd has had to contend with. Research firm Global Industry Analysts estimates the high-end segment is on track to hit $12.5 billion by 2012, with North America set to maintain its overall leadership but the Asia-Pacific region remaining as the fastest-growing market. The vast majority of these systems run Windows, UNIX or Linux, with rivals like NetWare, OpenVMS and the IBM z and i systems carving up the leftovers.
The relative health of the market is certainly having an impact on the development side. With clustering technology driving commodity systems closer and closer to the processing realms of the top-performers, the push is on to extend HPC's prowess into uncharted territory.
DataDirect, for example, has come out with a new storage platform that leverages 10 GB performance and an active/active design to provide a simplified block and file backbone for highly scalable environments. The Storage Fusion Architecture (SFA) 1000 offers 10 GBps read and write speeds to deliver more than 1 million IOPS on up to 2.4 petabytes of storage. The system is designed for multicore, multi-threaded environments that value transactional throughput rather than simple streaming capability to accommodate high-volume data flows. The system also supports a mirrored cache, multiple RAID and SSD levels and 8 Gbps Fibre Channel and 40 Gb InfiniBand.
Sun, in a sign that it has no intention of giving up the high end as it prepares for the Oracle merger, is bringing out a range of new technologies for the Sun Constellation system, including an advanced networking architecture and new Linux software. The Datacenter InfiniBand QDR 648 switch offers up to 648 non-blocking ports using a third of the cabling of DDR systems, while the new HPC Software, Linux Edition 2.0 provides an integrated Linux stack for easy installation of popular OS's like SUSE 10, CentOS and Red Hat.
HPC technologies are also finding their way onto the cloud. Platform Computing recently came out with a private cloud management system that it calls Platform ISF. It essentially provides a shared IT infrastructure across physical and virtual pools that is used to host applications under pre-defined workload and scheduling policies. The system uses the same virtual machine and resource-sharing technology found on Platform's HPC products, with added capabilities like self-service and reporting/billing modules to reduce IT costs and increase utilization.
HPC technology will always be reserved for the well-heeled, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have an impact on the full IT spectrum. Advanced technologies have a way of trickling down to the lower ends, as evidenced by virtualization itself, which started out as a mainframe solution.
And once the cloud gets going for real, even the smallest organization will have access to the best that the industry has to offer.