IBM Rents Out Supercomputer Time

IBM will announce today it is renting out, at a reduced cost, the Blue Gene supercomputing system to any client or independent developer that wants to purchase computer time remotely.

Capacity on Demand targets commercial markets and disciplines that have a growing need for the performance of supercomputers, but cannot afford the high costs associated with ownership. IBM credits smaller size, lower power consumption and cost for the commoditization of supercomputing capabilities.

Big Blue has put the weight of the world's most powerful supercomputer behind its utility computing services. Blue Gene, although less then one square meter in size, turns out a peak performance of 5.7 teraflops and outperforms competing platforms on the Top500 Supercomputer list of the world's fastest machines.


Customers who purchase computing time work remotely and access Blue Gene through a dedicated virtual private network (VPN) connection. Because of its power and scalability, a broad series of applications are a match for Blue Gene. IBM has identified life sciences, product design, simulation and animation, along with financial and weather modeling as applications well suited for "deep computing."

Sessions on Blue Gene are typically not interactive; IBM describes Blue Gene as being a batch environment. Additionally, applications that are in development are isolated from other subsets of the machine by OS level protections.

IBM has opened Blue Gene to independent developers as a way to encourage software vendors to migrate applications to the platform. According to IBM, Novell/SuSE, LSTC, and Allinea have made their Blue Gene intentions known thus far. QuantumBio is an early adopter already in the process of building applications for Blue Gene.

Last month, rival Sun Microsystems unveiled a grid computing offering that it says will "radically simplify" how corporations purchase computing time over a network with a pay-as-you-go concept. Sun charges customers $1 an hour per processor used and $1 each month per gigabyte of storage.

An IBM spokesperson said that the company was not aware of any client that was using Sun's service. "The difference from Sun is that we have been doing it for 18 months. Owing to our experience, we know more about our clients and are more advanced in our understanding of the problems that they may encounter and have more sector and industry knowledge."

IBM also pointed to the versatility of its Capacity on Demand service, saying that Sun limits its customers to Solaris on AMD Opteron systems.

There are a total of four Capacity on Demand centers worldwide that host over 5,200 Intel, AMD Opteron and IBM Power CPUs running on the Linux, Microsoft Windows and IBM AIX operating environments. Blue Gene is built with a custom Linux kernel and IBM Power RISC processor. The newest Capacity on Demand center, which hosts Blue Gene, is located in Rochester, Minnesota.

"IBM has been reaching out and working with a number of our key business partners to port applications to build the Blue Gene ecosystem," said David Gelardi, vice president, IBM Deep Computing Capacity on Demand. "Customers have been able to access IBM's Deep Computing solutions via our centers for more than 18 months and today's announcement provides customers another venue for them to 'test drive' Blue Gene."

A Sun Microsystems spokesperson could not be reached for comment by press time.

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