Does IBM's leading supercomputer announcement mean anything to the midmarket? Yes, it does.

My ZDnet colleague Zack Whittaker, published a commentary called U.S. IBM supercomputer is world's fastest: Does it matter? a short while ago In this piece, Zack looked at the announcement that IBM’s “Sequoia” has taken the crown as the world’s fastest supercomputer and dismissed it as just another announcement of another tool for research. Does this announcement mean anything to midmarket companies? Although it is unlikely that these companies are going to purchase and deploy a supercomputer, what IBM and its competitors have accomplished is likely to have a significant impact on the midmarket in time.

What the good Mr. Whittaker had to say

It’s not the computing power that matters: it’s the human capital. In a global environment where a U.S. scientist can rent access to an Asian supercomputer, it doesn’t particularly matter which country boasts the top supercomputer.

Ultimately it’s about where the people who know how to use these machines are. The scientists, the researchers, the meteorologists, astrologists: the list goes on.

The U.S. may claim home to some the world’s top scientists, just as China has for two non-consecutive years claimed the world’s fastest computer.

At the end of the day: supercomputers are just tools.

Quick rejoinder

After reading Zack's commentary, I felt that I had to reply. On the one hand, he is right. A supercomputer is a very useful tool for many types of research and analysis. Like any other tool, the research and analysis is where the focus should be.

On the other hand, IBM or any other supplier's ability to create such a complex, powerful computing research is of extreme importance. The thought, the tools and the procedures needed to build and operate such a huge system are directly applicable to other types of computing. This, I believe, is something decision makers at midmarket companies should be aware of.

For example, by deploying such a huge system IBM and other supercomputer competitors are demonstrating the following:

  • They are investing in developing faster and faster computing resources. In IBM's case, this means pushing the abilities of its Power Architecture processors, the supporting internal bus structure, the supporting memory infrastructure, the supporting network and storage I/O infrastructure to new heights.
  • They have developed ways to tie a very large number of systems together and make it work like a single computing resource -- this ability to scale monitoring, operations and automation software is highly useful today and will be increasingly useful as organizations deploy cloud computing solutions
  • They have developed ways to reduce the overall power consumption and heat production that will help the industry make best use of our limited environmental resources.

So, Zack, while the research and analysis supported by this supercomputer are very important, it really is a demonstration of how IBM has pushed the underlying technology to new levels of power and scalability. This push demonstrates the company's ability to address even the most extreme computing requirements. Doesn't this benefit the whole market rather than just the few researchers who will be able to use this individual supercomputer?

The ability to build huge systems that are scalable and management is of interest to midmarket companies as well as the very largest companies. Why? Because midmarket companies hope to grow and this requires a scalable, manageable IT infrastructure. When a company, such as IBM, demonstrates it can create a system supporting over a million processors, that means that it has the capabilities to deal with even the most strenuous issues for the midmarket.


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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