Lenovo gets serious about HPC
Following its acquisition of IBM’s x86 business last year, Lenovo now makes everything from tablets to HPC clusters. Tom Wilkie reports how the launch of its HPC innovation centre in Stuttgart yesterday shows the company’s commitment to HPC
The carpet in the entrance hall had only just been laid the night before. The massive new supercomputer that is the core of the new research centre still has 36 nodes to be installed. But Lenovo is determined to demonstrate that it is serious about high-end computing. Nothing was going to delay yesterday’s opening of the company’s first global High Performance Computing (HPC) innovation centre, located in Stuttgart, Germany.
If anything, the body language was more remarkable than the high tech equipment and the gleaming new office space in a technology park on the outskirts of the city. Only a few months have elapsed since Lenovo finalised its acquisition of IBM’s x86 server business, and many of the senior executives overseeing the HPC aspect of Lenovo’s business are ex-IBM. But where once there were grey-haired, grey-faced corporate spokesmen dutifully parroting the IBM company line, now there is a spring in their step and clarity of vision in their eyes – even though the hair may still be grey.
‘We’re not confused anymore,’ said Brian Connors, vice-president of HPC for Lenovo, ‘because we are proud to be a hardware and systems business.’ In conversations over lunch at the inauguration, there was talk of how IBM had lost the ability to formulate and follow a clear strategy because it had tried to be a software company and a services company and because it had developed several different processor technologies. As a result, there were always internal conflicts of interest and an inability to articulate a clear vision of future development.
Whereas IBM had outsourced much of its hardware supply chain, Lenovo is making its own kit --something the company’s senior executives clearly believe to be an advantage. The consumer products side of its business requires manufacturing on a massive scale, so Lenovo has an understanding of and expertise in electronics manufacturing that it can equally apply to its server business. ‘We are committed to our own supply chain and manufacturing, rather than going “fabless”’, said Aymar de Lencquesaing, Lenovo EMEA President and Senior Vice President of Lenovo Group.
Raising the profile of HPC
However, the company’s executives were very well aware that Lenovo is best known for tablet computers and PCs (where it is the market leader) and perhaps, following its acquisition of Motorola, for smart phones as well. It needs to persuade users of high performance computing that the company is serious about HPC. So what better way to do so than to set up their own HPC cluster to act as a permanent R&D and application benchmarking site?
de Lencquesaing explained: ‘We’re putting our money where our mouth is. This is a sign of the commitment by Lenovo to HPC.’ There is of course a commercial rationale behind the move, as he continued: ‘HPC is the fastest growing market in the server space. We would like a slice of that.’ He pointed out that EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) represents the second largest market for HPC. Lenovo sees Europe as key – which is why Stuttgart rather than the US or China was chosen as the location for the new centre.
Intel among Lenovo's partners in innovation
The purpose of the centre in Stuttgart is to drive innovation in high-performance computing and Lenovo sees partnerships with other companies and HPC centres as central to the success of this R&D strategy. According to Brian Connors, the Stuttgart centre represents ‘a new approach to innovation’. It will be the hub of a network of partners who will collaborate on projects to bring the commercial benefits of HPC to a broader spectrum of clients and workloads. The company is offering simplified and more relaxed terms in relation to sharing the intellectual property that might be generated through the work of such partnerships.
Foremost among these partners will be Intel. The x86 business that Lenovo acquired from IBM is Intel-based, and a sign of the significance of yesterday’s event was the presence of one of Intel’s most senior executives, Rajeeb Hazra, who is VP of Intel’s data centre group and general manager of the technical computing group. He described the relationship as ‘a deep collaboration on innovation with Lenovo. We are built on being able to innovate,’ he continued and so: ‘the mission and purpose of the Stuttgart centre is a perfect fit for Intel. We are excited to be part of this centre today.’ HPC can be much, much more prevalent than it has ever been, he said, and ‘Like Lenovo, we like growing markets’.
As well as Intel, from within the HPC supply industry IBM, Mellanox, and Nvidia have already signed up as partners, as have the software vendors ScaleMP, Allinea, and PathScale. It was also announced yesterday that Lenovo has been accepted as a full member of the European Technology Platform for High Performance Computing (ETP4HPC) – the industry-led forum for developing HPC technology in Europe.
Some of the smaller European HPC vendors, including Transtec, OCF, and ProCom, have also agreed to become partners and make use of the Stuttgart centre. The cluster offers the latest Intel Xeon E5 2600 v3 processors with Mellanox EDR 100Gb/s InfiniBand interconnect fabric, using Lenovo’s dense NeXtScale System as base compute platform.
More to come?
Peter Hortensius, the company’s chief technology officer, said that the company spends $1.6 billion every year on research and development globally, across all its product lines and technologies, putting some context to the $5 billion it paid to acquire Motorola and IBM’s x86 business.
According to de Lencquesaing, the centre also marks Lenovo’s commitment to enterprise computing and its ambitions to become the number one Open Systems vendor in the market: ‘Not only are we opening the company’s first global HPC centre but we are reaffirming our commitment, investment, and ambitions in the enterprise.’
Connors had the pithiest punch-line: ‘Expect more. Lenovo is Focused. Open. Aggressive.’