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Europe under-investing in HPC according to EU Commission-funded report

In recent years, Europe has under-invested in HPC, both in annual spending on computing resources and in research investments, while other nations' investments grew even during the economic recession; this was the message of an interim report on 'Developing a Supercomputing Strategy in Europe,' published by market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC) and commissioned by the Information, Society, and Media Directorate General of the European Commission. According to the report, European stakeholders from industry, research, and academia believe that Europe has a chance to jump back to the forefront of development for the next generation of HPC-based research, and for the applications and other software technologies required for the transition to petascale and exascale computing.

According to IDC's HPC-tracking research, the worldwide market for HPC systems was worth about €6.45bn in 2009. Although IDC noted a significant negative effect on sales of lower-priced HPC systems during the difficult global recession year of 2009, the researchers found that the market for high-end HPC systems grew substantially during this period; according to IDC, global revenue for HPC systems priced above $500,000 increased by 25 per cent, while global revenue for HPC systems priced above $3m increased by 65 per cent.

The report goes on to present data showing that revenue from the sales of whole HPC systems within the EU in 2009 totalled approximately $2.5bn, or 29.4 per cent of the global revenue value, compared with 49.5 per cent for sales in the North American market, 10.5 per cent for the Asia-Pacific region without Japan, and 9.5 per cent for Japan. The EU's contribution to the global market for HPC slipped nearly 2 per cent from the pre-recession 2007 high of 33.1 per cent. During the same period (2007-2009), North America's market share grew nearly 2 per cent, from 47.8 per cent to 49.5 per cent. Further to these figures, IDC has forecast that the worldwide market for HPC systems will expand at a 'healthy' 6.3 per cent compound annual growth rate to surpass €8.3bn ($11bn) in 2013.

Alongside analysis of the market for whole HPC systems, IDC researched other HPC categories such as storage, service, application software, and middleware. When these additional components are considered alongside revenue from HPC systems, the aggregate value of the global HPC market in 2009 was $16.6bn, and the forecast for 2013 rises to $24.8bn. The revenue growth rate for the non-computer categories has been, and is projected by IDC to remain, higher than that of HPC systems. Revenue generated by sales of storage technologies in particular has been growing at a pace several percentage points higher than HPC systems, owing, IDC says, to the 'data explosion' associated with running increasingly large, complex HPC problems and workloads.

Aggregate HPC revenue (spending) within the EU amounted to $4.2bn in 2009. IDC forecasts that total HPC spending within the EU will more than double to surpass $5.8bn by 2013. As with the worldwide forecast, the compute category is expected to experience the lowest growth rate among the revenue categories. Within the category of supercomputers priced at $500,000 and up, IBM was named as being the EU market leader in 2005-2009, although HP jumped ahead of IBM during 2008, otherwise remaining a close second. Together, IBM and HP captured 78 per cent of the EU market in this price band in 2009. The third-place vendor, Bull, accounted for only about 5 per cent of the market.

In the category of systems priced at $3m or more, IBM was described by the authors of the report as having held an easy lead over all other vendors, capturing 46 per cent of EU revenue for HPC systems in this price band. HP finished second, with 23 per cent market share, followed by Cray with 11 per cent, Bull with 9 per cent, and SGI with 6 per cent. Approximately five per cent of the revenue in this highly competitive segment went to other vendors.

IDC data shows that the EU market for these high-end ($3m or more) systems grew a rate of approximately 2.7 per cent a year between 2005-2009, while the equivalent US market grew by 14 per cent, and the global market for these systems grew by 13 per cent. IDC concludes, based on this data, that the EU is not investing at the same level as many other nations in this critical category of supercomputers - described as 'leadership class' by the authors.

The report presents four case studies of leading European HPC users, including CINECA, the Italian national supercomputing centre for science and research; HLRS, the HPC centre in Stuttgart, Germany; SARA Computing and Networking Services, a hybrid organisation comprising the national supercomputing agency in the Netherlands and the SARA managed services business; and CERN, the European organisation for nuclear research and the initiator of the LCG (LHC Computing Grid) project, based in Switzerland. IDC claims that these case studies highlight the increasing demand for supercomputing capacity, the need for European-level cooperation to meet this demand, and the main benefits for research and industry from the use of HPC.

While the interim report presents key findings on the HPC market in Europe based on IDC research, the main goal of the project is to develop a supercomputing strategy for Europe. The Final Report due out in a few months will present the recommended strategy.

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