HP lifts lid on its grid work

HP lifts lid on its grid work

When it comes to leading the grid computing charge, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) may not be the first vendor to spring to mind, but the company hopes that will change this week when it unveils new project wins and technologies at the International Supercomputing Conference in Heidelberg, Germany.

"We felt the need to be a bit noisier," said Martin Walker, HP's scientific research manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "I've seen announcements from some of our competitors and I've said, 'We are doing that -- why didn't we say something?'"

That's why HP is trumpeting on Wednesday its selection as lead partner in a new Italian grid project that will establish a research and development environment among the University of Lecce, the University of Calabria and the National Research Council CPS/CNR in Naples. All three centers are members of the Italian Southern Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (SPACI) whose goal is to collaborate on national and international research.

Although far from the first time educational and research centers have decided to pool their resources through grid computing, HP believes that this project is different because the grid will not only be used by the SPACI members but will eventually be rented out to industrial customers.

"I am not aware of any other group in Europe that has decided to pool their expertise not only for scientific research but also to create an industry that will help Southern Italy compete globally," said Frank Baetke, global program manager for HP's High-Performance Technical Computing Division.

First, however, the universities will be testing their own projects on the grid, which is due to be put in place in the third quarter of this year, in time for the start of the autumn school term, Walker said.

The project, which is estimated to be worth Euro 3 million (US$3.6 million) over 2 years, will initially be comprised of three clusters of HP Integrity rx2600 Itanium 2 servers running Linux. The University of Lecce and the National Research Council will have 68 integrity servers each, while the University of Calabria will have 13 Integrity servers and 16 HP AlphaServers.

HP is putting the grid together along with industry partners such as Intel Corp. and will also be providing services and applications. Each site will also feature an HP Storage Area Network, as well as cluster management and software development tools, the Palo Alto, California, company said.

The total grid implementation for SPACI is expected to boast a computing power of up to 1837G flops (floating point operations per second), and users will be supported by HP's Collaboration and Competency Network, a forum offering the ability to share research and expertise with the worldwide technical computing community, HP said.

Each site will establish its own area of expertise, however, and will offer their resources for commercial collaboration and allow companies to rent the grid for development purposes.

The project leaders aim to be talking to industrial customers by the end of the year, Baetke said, with a focus on the manufacturing and financial services sectors. "Italy has seen some slow growth and this is an opportunity to attract business," he said.

For HP, its also an opportunity to showcase some technologies that it has been working on in the background, Walker said, such as research into scientific visualization, and to tout some of its other grid efforts which have perhaps flown under the public's radar.

For example, HP also announced this week that it has a contract to build a cluster of high-performance servers for research and development at the University of Karlsruhe in Germany. The cluster will be supplemented with HP's new Lustre-based StorageWorks Scalable File Share (SFS) product. Lustre SFS, which is being officially unveiled Wednesday, offers real-time and scalable access to scientific data from other worldwide computational resources.

HP Labs is also working on developing a grid in Eastern Europe as part of a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) project to eliminate brain drain in the region, Walker said.

And if there was any doubt left that HP had its mind on the grid, Walker pointed to another project the company began earlier this year, to support an operational grid for the Large Hadron Collider accelerator at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

The project is one of the most ambitious grid efforts ever undertaken given that when the LHC becomes operational in 2007 the instrument is expected to generate 10 to 14 petabytes of data a year, which can only be handled by a grid, according to Walker.

But while Walker feels that HP is doing strong work on grid computing to support academic and scientific research, he believes that the company needs to focus on enterprise applications to truly make its mark in the field.

"If you look at the IT industry as a whole, enterprise is by far the greatest sector. Science and research are small in comparison. ... We want to get out of niche mode," Walker said.

Since one of HP's strengths is creating software for managing complex environments, it will be concentrating on software that helps enterprises manage grid infrastructures, he said.

"So, we are very, very active in this space, and eager," he said. And beginning this week, maybe a bit noisier as well.

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