IBM Makes Bet on Distributed Computing with Platform Buy

By Michael Feldman

October 12, 2011

Platform Computing will soon be under new management. IBM announced on Tuesday that it intends to buy the Toronto-based company and fold it into its Systems and Technology Group. If all goes according to plan, the deal will close in Q4, ending Platform’s 19-year reign as an independent, privately held company. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

As a premier vendor of cluster, grid, and cloud management software for the technical computing market, Platform fills an interesting niche in IBM’s offerings, which mostly lacks this type of system software in its HPC stack. Except for IBM’s xCAT, which offers similar management and provisioning functionality to Platform Cluster Manager, the rest of the portfolio including, including Platform Symphony, Platform LSF, Platform HPC, plus newer products like Platform ISF and Platform MapReduce, should fill some empty slots at IBM.

The acquisition also fits in with IBM’s “Smarter Planet” strategy, although to be honest, what computer technology would actually fall outside of that mom-and-apple-pie vision of IT? Nevertheless, Platform’s ability to address clusters, grids, and clouds does play into Big Blue’s focus on “big data” types of applications, which tend to rely on distributed infrastructure to handle their computational workloads.

From a financial perspective, IBM is expecting to grow an already profitable business. Platform took in $71.6 million in revenue in 2010, up from about $60 million the previous year. That’s not huge by IBM standards, but the growth rate is certainly attractive. But according to a 451 Group report, Platform’s business is limited by its confinement to what the authors referred to as “the HPC ghetto,” a weakness IBM thinks it can rectify.

During a press briefing on Tuesday, Brian Connors, VP of IBM’s HPC Business Line, emphasized his company’s plans to expand Platform’s business. Citing IDC’s projected 8 percent increase for total technical computing revenue over the next few years, Connors said he thinks IBM’s go-to-market strategy for Platform portfolio will “extend the reach of high performance computing into the high growth segment of technical computing.”

In this context, he has pigeon-holed HPC to mean mostly high-end government and academic supercomputing for scientists, whereas technical computing here covers a wider range of simulation, modeling and analytics codes on clusters and other scaled-out infrastructure. Specifically, IBM is looking to broaden Platform’s footprint in the commercial space — areas like product development, financial services, manufacturing, digital media, life science, and so on.

Platform is fairly well positioned in many of those sectors already, but IBM, with its considerable marketing and sales heft, plus its deep customer base, should be able to leverage those advantage for Platform’s business. IBM is in about 170 countries today, compare to Platform’s 20-country footprint. And even though Platform has built up a nice collection of value added resellers (VARs), OEM and software partners, not to mention about 2,000 clients, those are dwarfed by IBM’s vast network of partners and customers.

Although not much was said about leveraging IBM’s server portfolio, the Platform offerings are a nice fit for IBM’s hardware platforms that the company sells into the technical computing space, namely the System X line, the BladeCenter servers, the Power-based systems, and System Storage hardware. Bundling technical management software with their hardware dovetails nicely with IBM’s strategy of selling higher margin, integrated systems. This is yet another way for Big Blue to distance itself from white box vendors at the bottom of the server food chain.

While all of this has the makings for a happy marriage, keep in mind that not all of Platform software is running on IBM servers today. Current strategic partners (besides IBM) include HP, Dell and Cray, which bundle Platform’s management tools and libraries with many of their HPC system deployments. It’s reasonable to wonder what is to become of these relationships.

According to IBM’s Connors, they plan is to keep those partnerships intact. “It’s our intent to preserve as many of those relationships, if not all, going forward,” he said, adding “coopetition is just the nature of business now.” Platform CEO Songnian Zhou, reiterated that line of thinking, saying, “There’s a clear recognition that the world is now very open and we need to make absolutely sure we escalate our efforts in supporting those platforms, including competitors’ platforms to IBM, so that we continue to do the best job in serving enterprise customers.”

Whether Platform’s partner OEMs will be comforted by that sentiment is questionable. Intersect360 Research
CEO Addison Snell notes that HPC system vendors have a lot more choice in cluster and grid management vendors than even just a few years ago. “Today there are a number of other companies, such as Adaptive Computing, Bright Computing, and Univa, whose products compete with Platform’s in specific markets,” he explained, adding that the IBM-Platform deal could spur other acquisitions of said companies.

Certainly we’ve seen similar domino effects in other areas, most recently in the storage arena. With a landmark acquisition like this in cluster, grid and cloud management, it certainly wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities to see other OEMs start choosing sides.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Activist Investor Starboard Buys 10.7% Stake in Mellanox; Sale Possible?

November 20, 2017

Starboard Value has reportedly taken a 10.7 percent stake in interconnect specialist Mellanox Technologies, and according to the Wall Street Journal, has urged the company “to improve its margins and stock and explore Read more…

By John Russell

Installation of Sierra Supercomputer Steams Along at LLNL

November 20, 2017

Sierra, the 125 petaflops (peak) machine based on IBM’s Power9 chip being built at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, sometimes takes a back seat to Summit, the ~200 petaflops system being built at Oak Ridge Natio Read more…

By John Russell

SC Bids Farewell to Denver, Heads to Dallas for 30th

November 17, 2017

After a jam-packed four-day expo and intensive six-day technical program, SC17 has wrapped up another successful event that brought together nearly 13,000 visitors to the Colorado Convention Center in Denver for the larg Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Harness Scalable Petabyte Storage with HPE Apollo 4510 and HPE StoreEver

As a growing number of connected devices challenges IT departments to rapidly collect, manage, and store troves of data, organizations must adopt a new generation of IT to help them operate quickly and intelligently. Read more…

SC17 Keynote – HPC Powers SKA Efforts to Peer Deep into the Cosmos

November 17, 2017

This week’s SC17 keynote – Life, the Universe and Computing: The Story of the SKA Telescope – was a powerful pitch for the potential of Big Science projects that also showcased the foundational role of high performance computing in modern science. It was also visually stunning. Read more…

By John Russell

SC Bids Farewell to Denver, Heads to Dallas for 30th

November 17, 2017

After a jam-packed four-day expo and intensive six-day technical program, SC17 has wrapped up another successful event that brought together nearly 13,000 visit Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC17 Keynote – HPC Powers SKA Efforts to Peer Deep into the Cosmos

November 17, 2017

This week’s SC17 keynote – Life, the Universe and Computing: The Story of the SKA Telescope – was a powerful pitch for the potential of Big Science projects that also showcased the foundational role of high performance computing in modern science. It was also visually stunning. Read more…

By John Russell

How Cities Use HPC at the Edge to Get Smarter

November 17, 2017

Cities are sensoring up, collecting vast troves of data that they’re running through predictive models and using the insights to solve problems that, in some Read more…

By Doug Black

Student Cluster LINPACK Record Shattered! More LINs Packed Than Ever before!

November 16, 2017

Nanyang Technological University, the pride of Singapore, utterly destroyed the Student Cluster Competition LINPACK record by posting a score of 51.77 TFlop/s a Read more…

By Dan Olds

Hyperion Market Update: ‘Decent’ Growth Led by HPE; AI Transparency a Risk Issue

November 15, 2017

The HPC market update from Hyperion Research (formerly IDC) at the annual SC conference is a business and social “must,” and this year’s presentation at S Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia Focuses Its Cloud Containers on HPC Applications

November 14, 2017

Having migrated its top-of-the-line datacenter GPU to the largest cloud vendors, Nvidia is touting its Volta architecture for a range of scientific computing ta Read more…

By George Leopold

HPE Launches ARM-based Apollo System for HPC, AI

November 14, 2017

HPE doubled down on its memory-driven computing vision while expanding its processor portfolio with the announcement yesterday of the company’s first ARM-base Read more…

By Doug Black

OpenACC Shines in Global Climate/Weather Codes

November 14, 2017

OpenACC, the directive-based parallel programming model used mostly for porting codes to GPUs for use on heterogeneous systems, came to SC17 touting impressive Read more…

By John Russell

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Share This