As the rise of big data and real-time predictions heightens CIO interest in high-performance computing, we tell you what to consider–and look out for–before investing in HPC.

There’s growing interest within the CIO community to discover how high-performance computing (HPC) can be employed to create new–and truer–levels of competitive differentiation.

This trend represents a significant shift in the HPC space. For many years, IT leaders placed HPC systems placed in the same category as supercomputers, and as a result, HPC was relegated to large government institutions and scientific research labs.

That’s beginning to change.

More enterprise IT leaders, both in the APAC region and elsewhere, have begun to explore more commercial applications of high-performance computing.

HPC systems are becoming an increasingly necessary ingredient in any industry’s ability to develop new and innovative products.

These forward-looking IT leaders are discovering that high-performance computing is essential in defining new levels of customer experience, risk management, product and service innovation, and unearthing patterns in real-time, among other uses cases.

“HPC systems are becoming an increasingly necessary ingredient in any industry’s ability to develop new and innovative products,” says Steve Conway, Research VP, IDC’s High-Performance Computing Group, in CIO Review.

As companies start to invest in high-performance computing, they are faced with a number questions. Is HPC going to cost me a fortune? What should I watch out for when purchasing an HPC system? Who is the best vendor for my company’s requirements?

To help these companies, here’s a list of guiding principles when investing in high-performance computing.

Principle 1: Control Cost by Starting Small and Scaling Up

Cost is a key factor in any enterprise investment. Unfortunately, high-performance computing suffers from the reputation of being inordinately expensive. While that notion is built around a grain of truth, it isn’t completely accurate.

In reality, high-performance computing need not be investment heavy, especially if you know how much you need. The key is to accurately size the amount of computing power you need you need to start with, buy only those required units, and scale up from there.

The price tag for a small system can start at a $10,000 and even lower.

4 Ideas to Consider When Buying HPC

  • HPC isn’t expensive.
  • You can control costs by starting small and scaling up CIOs should look for value and low TCO
  • Make sure you partner with a vendor that really believes in customer collaboration
  • Domain expertise and innovation should be key investment criteria parameters

However, this strategy requires working with a technology provider that can offer HPC configurations at different price points and performance levels–and that has a modular approach.

One such technology company is Lenovo, whose range of HPC products ensures both price and performance flexibility.

“I believe the Lenovo innovations in the 6U, 12 bay NeXtScale System M5 are a particularly good example, offering configuration flexibility in a very dense package…This design helps customers reduce and manage the complexity…and allows the system to easily evolve to adopt new technologies over time while protecting customers’ investments along the way,” says Karl Freund, Senior Analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

At one end of its broad portfolio is the Lenovo Intelligent Cluster, which delivers a factory-integrated, tested and fully supported cluster. Built with Lenovo servers, storage, software, networking, and third-party devices, this solution can help IT departments significantly reduce deployment time, risk, and costs.

At the same time, Lenovo’s Intel® Cluster Ready testing ensures that its HPC systems will run a wide-variety of ISV applications and industry-standard components easily and seamlessly, ensuring IT departments are not locked in.

One the ways in which Lenovo stands out is its water-cooled technology. That’s a key thing, especially from a TCO perspective.
Jonathan Wu, CTO, Data Center Group, Lenovo Asia Pacific

For the most demanding workloads, Lenovo has NeXtScale System, which delivers the density, flexibility, and scale. It also offerings across the price/performance spectrum.

Lenovo’s integrated architecture approach also allows IT departments to easily mix and match air- or water-cooled servers, accelerators, and storage in a dense chassis and use industry-standard networking and racks for significant cost savings.

Principle 2: Look for Value and Low TCO

For most CIOs, price is only one side of the investment coin. The other side is value. What value can I get from an HPC investment? What’s the return on investment I can prove? These are key questions for CIOs.

I believe Lenovo innovations…are a particularly good example, offering configuration flexibility in a very dense package… This design helps customers reduce and manage the complexity… and allows the system to easily evolve to adopt new technologies over time while protecting customers’ investments along the way. Karl Freund, Senior Analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy
Karl Freund, Senior Analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy

That’s a significant figure and lowering these costs is essential for cost-conscious enterprises. One company that has made industry-leading advances in the area of lowering costs associated with power is Lenovo. Last year, it demonstrated the ability to create cooling capacity by recycling captured hot water, which represents a significant breakthrough in water cooling technology.

These forward-looking IT leaders are discovering that high-performance computing is essential in defining new levels of customer experience, risk management, product and service innovation, and unearthing patterns in real-time, among other uses cases.

“One the ways in which Lenovo stands out is its water-cooled technology. That’s a key thing, especially from a TCO perspective,” says Jonathan Wu, CTO, Data Center Group, Lenovo Asia Pacific.

Warm-water cooling enables an enterprise to shrink the amount of power required to run their HPC systems, directly impacting long-term TCO.

Principle 3: Find Partners That Really Believe in Customer Collaboration

High-performance computing can be a complex undertaking, one which can quickly swamp small-to-mid-sized IT departments. For CIOs who would like to invest in HPC, it’s important to realize that they will need to depend heavily on their technology vendor—a fact that many HPC veterans will attest to.

“One the ways in which Lenovo stands out is its water-cooled technology. That’s a key thing, especially from a TCO perspective,” says Jonathan Wu, CTO, Data Center Group, Lenovo Asia Pacific.

Warm-water cooling enables an enterprise to shrink the amount of power required to run their HPC systems, directly impacting long-term TCO.

Principle 3: Find Partners That Really Believe in Customer Collaboration

High-performance computing can be a complex undertaking, one which can quickly swamp small-to-mid-sized IT departments. For CIOs who would like to invest in HPC, it’s important to realize that they will need to depend heavily on their technology vendor—a fact that many HPC veterans will attest to.

the ability to create cooling capacity by recycling captured hot water, which represents a significant breakthrough in water cooling technology.

As IT departments try to select an HPC vendor, one shortlisting tactic they employ is using datasheets and specifications to compare different vendors.

But making a purchase decision solely on the basis of a datasheet is not advisable. First, because performance numbers on datasheets tend to be based on best-case scenarios, which is not the reality of enterprise IT.

the ability to create cooling capacity by recycling captured hot water, which represents a significant breakthrough in water cooling technology.

As IT departments try to select an HPC vendor, one shortlisting tactic they employ is using datasheets and specifications to compare different vendors.

But making a purchase decision solely on the basis of a datasheet is not advisable. First, because performance numbers on datasheets tend to be based on best-case scenarios, which is not the reality of enterprise IT.

the ability to create cooling capacity by recycling captured hot water, which represents a significant breakthrough in water cooling technology.

As IT departments try to select an HPC vendor, one shortlisting tactic they employ is using datasheets and specifications to compare different vendors.

But making a purchase decision solely on the basis of a datasheet is not advisable. First, because performance numbers on datasheets tend to be based on best-case scenarios, which is not the reality of enterprise IT.

Another, more important, reason is that putting together an HPC system calls for a high level of technical know-how and requires working closely with technology partners. A majority of CIOs who have invested in high-performance computing agree that a key factor in the success of their HPC implementations was how closely they worked with their technology partners.

This was a big worry among IBM’s HPC customers when Lenovo acquired IBM’s System X business in 2014. They wondered whether their close working relationships with experienced engineers and scientists would change.

It didn’t.

What most companies (that offer HPC solutions) do not do is overclocking. Lenovo can exceed the documented speed of the CPU by about 10%.
-Jonathan Wu, CTO, Data Center Group, Lenovo Asia Pacific

The proof? Today, according to the latest Top500 figures, Lenovo has the second-largest market share among HPC vendors, cornering 18.4% of the market.

One example of the distance Lenovo’s HPC goes is when Lenovo was trying to help the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Science and Humanities set up a supercomputer—under a difficult to achieve power-use ceiling. The Lenovo team so much out of their way to accommodate LRZ’s needs that they literally created a new design—one that it now offers to its other customers.

This rare level of customer collaboration has given Lenovo industry-leading customer satisfaction ratings.

Principle 4: Make Domain Expertise and Innovation Key Parameters

Primarily because high-performance computing is at the cutting-edge of technology and also because of its forward-looking applications (think AI, real-time predictions, etc.), it’s very important that CIOs choose vendors who can show leadership, an innovative spirit, and deep domain expertise.

Among today’s 10-plus HPC vendors, few are as innovative or have the depth of domain expertise as Lenovo. Take for example, Lenovo’s innovation in overclocking—a key area in the HPC space. “What most companies (that offer HPC solutions) do not do is overclocking. We can exceed the documented speed of the CPU by about 10%,” says Lenovo’s Wu.

Lenovo’s integrated architecture approach also allows IT departments to easily mix and match air- or water-cooled servers, accelerators, and storage in a dense chassis and use industry-standard networking and racks for significant cost savings.

Or how Lenovo stands apart from its peers thanks to its elastic storage management, which is, today, is the most widely-used commercial parallel file system for online storage management.

He also says that Lenovo has deep domain knowledge, a key reason many customers continue to work with them. “We have experts in AI, experts who deeply understand CAE (computer-aided engineering), and experts in weather and metrology. These people understand the industry and the applications those industries use so well that they can tune the system to optimise hardware performance,” says Wu.

As more businesses ready for a future defined by artificial intelligence, real-time predictions based on big data, and machine learning, forward-looking CIOs are turning to high-performance computing. And finding the right partner will be essential in that journey.

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Jonathan Wu
CTO, Data Center Group, Lenovo Asia Pacific

Based in Beijing, Jonathan leads the High-Performance Computing for Lenovo in the Asia Pacific region. He has over 20 years of experience within the IT industry.