August 3, 2007

Startup Looks for Niche in HPC Services

by Tiffany Trader

Capital Advanced Technology Services, Inc. (CATS) is a Maryland-based, small business that came on the scene last week when they announced the availability of their cluster managed services offering. The startup was founded last year by industry veteran Richard Glassbrook, who recently took the time to tell me more about the company.

Mr. Glassbrook has over three decades of experience in the high performance computing world in both technical and management roles. He has put together support teams for various HPC centers in the government, and until about a year ago, he was working with a company that provided support to NASA Goddard. His many years of experience working in high performance computing provided the impetus to launch his own company.

According to Glassbrook, CATS differentiates itself by providing a full range of information technology (IT) services for HPC systems. They have the ability to work with the systems from the planning stage through the entire lifecycle, and can optimize applications as well. The company offers three types of services to support any size HPC system: management and technical consulting to IT organizations, dedicated support services and managed services. It is this last component, managed services, that was highlighted in the company’s debut announcement.

In recent years, commodity Linux clusters have become the dominant architecture to provide high performance computing at reduced system cost. But labor costs, unlike system costs, have continued to increase. Over the system lifecycle, the cost of dedicated full-time support can be more than the cost of the system itself. That’s where CATS’ Cluster Managed Services offering comes in.

CATS’ business model is based on leveraging expertise through automation and spreading cost across multiple sites. Their intent is not to compete with vendors and system integrators but to work with them and augment their offerings. According to Glassbrook, CATS’ managed services provide the same service that companies would get from dedicated support, but it is done remotely.

Managed services are a good fit for sites that cannot afford dedicated support. For larger sites, utilizing managed services can free up some of their existing staff to focus on issues other than the day-to-day maintenance of the system. This allows scientists and engineers to spend their valuable time working on applications instead of having to perform system administration.

CATS’ cluster managed services are priced according to system size and service level agreements (SLAs), which consist of three offerings. The basic service has a four-hour (business hour) response time during an eight-hour normal business day. With enhanced service, support is available twelve hours a day (M-F) and there is a two-hour response time. Later this year, Glassbrook plans to offer a premium 24×7 coverage option with a one-hour response time for sites that require that level of service. All SLA’s include 24×7 system monitoring, system configuration and updates, incident reports and monthly performance reports.

CATS is targeting customers in the government arena, but is also looking at the commercial side as well. Glassbrook explained that some managed service providers outsource and off-shore labor, but CATS employs only U.S. citizens or permanent residents. One reason for this is to adhere to government agency regulations that restrict root privileges on their system to U.S. nationals. In addition, Glassbrook relayed that this policy can be a benefit in the commercial world as well, especially in technical computing centers, where there may be access to sensitive design-type information that they would want to protect from potential competitors.

Glassbrook thinks he can carve out a comfortable niche for CATS in the HPC landscape. “In the high performance market, there’s really a gap that exists in that small-to-mid range market, most of the vendors and integrators really don’t address that portion of the market because there is not a lot of money at least in terms of individual deals,” he says. ”So I think with the type of service I’m putting together we’re really addressing that market and the types of problems that they have and I think we can really help them.”

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