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IBM expands high-performance computing

Big Blue broadens a server-centric unit to include storage, software and services, and the computing giant gives the group a consolidated sales force.

IBM has broadened an effort to sell high-performance technical computers, expanding a largely server-centric unit to include storage, software and services, and giving the group a consolidated sales force.

The unit will have closer ties with IBM's research operations, said Dave Turek, leader of the newly named Deep Computing team and the executive who was in charge of two IBM technical computing areas, grids and Linux clusters.

"High-performance computing has really been wrapped around the notion of servers," Turek said in an interview. The new team "broadens that to encompass storage, software, workstations and services, so we get to the notion of producing thoughtful integrated solutions for customers in this space."

One business partner that hopes to profit from the new team is Searchspace, a company that sells software that pores through financial transactions to detect money laundering. Banking customers using its software on IBM servers include Wells Fargo and Lloyds TSB.

Searchspace Chief Executive Konrad Feldman said his company will benefit from the tighter integration of services with high-performance computing at IBM. His products typically are complex installations that must be integrated with customers' existing computing hardware, and IBM's services arm has deep expertise in this type of integration.

IBM has been increasing sales of high-performance computers and their more powerful cousins, supercomputers. According to IDC, IBM was the second-ranked company after Hewlett-Packard in the $4.7 billion market for high-performance technical computers in 2002, but Big Blue's business grew, whereas HP's shrank along with the overall market.

From 2001 to 2002, IBM sales grew 28 percent from $1.04 billion to $1.33 billion, while HP's shrank 25 percent from $2.1 billion to $1.58 billion. Sun Microsystems was in third place in 2002 with $944 million in sales.

Sun also is trying to elevate its high-performance computing push.

IBM's Deep Computing team will look for new customers beyond the cutting-edge buyers such as Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the site of Big Blue's coming ASCI Purple machine and Blue Gene/L.

"We'll still focusing on real high-end customers at government labs and universities but expanding to a diverse set of segments that includes digital media, business intelligence, life sciences and so on," Turek said.

In the United States, ultra high-end computing is getting more attention as a result of Japan's Earth Simulator, a supercomputer built by NEC that far surpassed the performance of machines in the United States.

Interest in buying these top-ranked machines "has been in eclipse for some time, though there has been some reconsideration because of the Earth Simulator that came out in Japan," Turek said.