Digging into the Atos-Nimbix Deal: Big US HPC and Global Cloud Aspirations. Look out HPE?

By John Russell

August 2, 2021

Behind Atos’s deal announced last week to acquire HPC-cloud specialist Nimbix are ramped-up plans to penetrate the U.S. HPC market and global expansion of its HPC cloud capabilities. Nimbix will become “an Atos HPC cloud center of competency and act as a global hub” and also be able “to position” Atos hardware for sale. Financial details of the acquisition were not yet disclosed.

Atos, of course, is a leading systems maker in Europe. It has worked with Nimbix in recent years including occasionally on joint proposals to customers. Nimbix began in 2010 as a boutique HPC cloud company offering leading-edge HPC technology, often much earlier than the big cloud providers. It has been winding down its independent cloud business and migrating customers to public clouds while leveraging its HPC orchestration services and Nimbix JARVICE XE software. Andrew Grant, Atos vice president for HPC strategic projects, discussed deal drivers and plans for Nimbix with HPCwire.

Grant singled out three deal drivers:

  • Expanding HPC Cloud Market. “There are plenty of statistics behind this shift. About 50-60 percent of customers are looking to have HPC in the cloud as part of their HPC strategy over the next few years. Some industries are moving faster than others, but the move is across all industries and last year represented a tipping point. That’s reason number one why we are doing this,” said Grant.
  • Work with Big Cloud Providers. “Both Atos and Nimbix were having separate discussions with hyperscalers about enhancing their HPC offers. So having HPC services and expertise to enhance the services offered by those hyperscalers, and just making it easy to migrate workloads into public clouds, is something that we think is very desirable. The combination of the JARVICE and the Atos existing software, which is our extreme computing studio, portal, and remote visualization tools, we think that pretty much ticks every box. To answer your question about our plans for JARVICE; absolutely, we see the value in that and that’s the core intellectual property that we’re investing in. Over the next year we’ll look at how JARVICE is integrated into our software suites for HPC,” he said.
  • Look out HPE! We’re the dominant player in Europe, but we don’t do a lot in HPC in the U.S. We have a handful of U.S. customers but very few HPC customers. That’s despite us having a very large staff count in the U.S. The reason is we haven’t had a team of HPC experts, or a large team anyway. Having knowledgeable feet on the street with a known brand in HPC that understands the ecosystem will help us to sell our hardware platforms as well as the cloud platforms. The Nimbix team will be positioning Atos hardware platforms for the U.S. market. We also hear from U.S. customers and partners that for high-end HPC and supercomputing, there is very little competition for HPE [in the U.S.] after acquiring Cray, and SGI. That’s where we compete very well in other markets. We want to bring that to the U.S. [where] even a small portion of the market will make a big impact.”

The product jewel in the deal is the Nimbix JARVICE XE software platform, which has been positioned as the first container-native hybrid cloud platform. It supports x86, OpenPower and Arm. There has even been work with Riken to port it to Fugaku, currently the top performer on the Top500 list.

In late 2020, Nimbix Chief Technology Officer Leo Reiter told HPCwire that “JARVICE XE can be used with any Arm platform, so long as it supports Linux and Kubernetes. Currently, JARVICE XE is deployed on Fujitsu FX700 systems (which like Fugaku are powered by the Fujitsu A64FX CPU), and JARVICE also supports Amazon’s Graviton processors, either as a fully standalone resource or as a processing target from an existing JARVICE-based system.”

In distinguishing the Atos and Nimbix cloud platform, Grant said, “Atos is focused very much on the front end of the portal interface to make the job submission portal, easy and customer friendly, and the security around that. The JARVICE focus is very much downstream and what happens at the delivery end. So the ability to move containers, and to do it in a multi-cloud way. So you could go to Amazon, Google, etc. and have the ability to dynamically create clusters. Any Kubernetes target is suitable for JARVICE.”

“So, whereas we can easily submit a Slurm job, let’s say from an on-prem system into GCP (Google Cloud Platform), what we couldn’t easily do before was be able to create a cluster on the fly, submit those containers, have those containers elastically grow in the cloud environment. That is the unique IP that JARVICE has, which I think is a fantastic asset. I don’t think anybody else has that capability,” he said.

Atos has broadly identified four uses cloud cases (slide below) and is working with the major hyperscalers on them.

“Use case one is where you’ve got a customer who has an on-prem facility and just wants to burst parts of their workload into the hyperscaler. That might be to access a new bit of hardware, or it might be just they’ve run out of capacity on site. Use case two is the same but the customer doesn’t have an on-prem facility. These are the easy ones that we could do today that we could do without the JARVICE software, although JARVICE makes it a lot easier. Use case three would be where we have a customer that perhaps has a very specific requirement, and wants to host a platform with a regional extension of a cloud service provider. We do this today, for SAP HANA for Oracle, where, for example, we have bare metal servers in Google’s datacenters for any customer that’s wanting to do Oracle as a service,” he said.

The fourth use case, as described by Grant, is multi-tenanted HPC system such as a supercomputer hosted at a service provider, “where we can partition off parts of the machine in an elastic way and scale them up. And I’m distinguishing here, between partitioning a supercomputer and providing access on a general-purpose cloud system where you’ve got virtualized resources.”

Nimbix was known for bringing advanced HPC technology to market early – think FPGAs, GPUs, IBM’s Power processor, Arm – and Grant said Atos is likewise inclined and will continue in that vein. One wonders, for example, if it will be an early supporter of RISC-V in the cloud.

Grant said, “We’re doing some hardware evaluations on various things at the moment. It’s a bit too early to talk about, but Atos is generally very early to market. We were the first to market with AMD Rome, for example, and similarly we will be very early with Sapphire Rapids and some of these other technologies that are coming out on the horizon.”

Steve Hebert, Nimbix CEO, now Global Head of Atos Nimbix HPC Cloud

It’s early days and Grant expects the integration of Nimbix and the roll-out of expanded cloud offerings to occur over the next year. For the moment the Nimbix executive team has taken on new titles. Steve Hebert, founder and Nimbix CEO, is now VP, Global Head of Atos Nimbix HPC Cloud. Rob Sherrard, also a Nimbix cofounder, is now Sr. Director of Global Delivery for Nimbix HPC Cloud Services. Reiter, Nimbix CTO is now CTO and Technical Director of the Atos Nimbix HPC Cloud. It certainly would not be unusual for executive movement following acquisitions.

Atos has big plans.

“We’ve grown consistently 20 percent year on year. And that’s mainly been in Europe, but we’ve also done a lot in India and South America, and so on. But as I said, we haven’t done an awful lot in the U.S., and as you know, 46 percent of the global market is in the U.S. The key thing is Atos is a big company in the U.S. We were a $3 billion company in 2019 – I’m not sure what the 2020 numbers were – with over 10,000 employees and 45 different locations,” said Grant.

“Critically, for me anyway, are things like eight out of the 10 largest [U.S.] manufacturers are customers, 50 percent of the top banks are our customers. Those organizations are using HPC, but they’re not using HPC from at us today, for the reasons I’ve mentioned. A key part of what we want to do is take advantage of that footprint, those customers, and have an expanded Nimbix team able to go and support those and upsell and cross-sell HPC capabilities into those customers. We absolutely intend to grow general HPC footprint hardware as well as software as well as cloud in the US through this acquisition.”

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