Rivals scrap for supercomputer buyers

The overall server market may be suffering, but makers of high-end supercomputers continue to find specialized niches where customers still are buying equipment.

Stephen Shankland
Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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The overall server market may be suffering, but makers of high-end supercomputers continue to find specialized niches such as biotechnology or government research where customers still are buying equipment.

Among those scrapping for attention in the market this week are Dell Computer, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Linux NetworX and SGI. Supercomputers, which often sell for millions of dollars, are a ray of hope for companies such as these that have been hurt by the shrinking server market.

IBM, which has one of the most aggressive supercomputer programs, announced preconfigured servers, storage systems, services and software geared particularly for biotechnology buyers, organizations focused on tasks such as developing new drugs based on human genetic information. The IBM system includes its Unix servers, DB2 database software, mid-range storage systems, management software and services.

Meanwhile, Dell is using Linux and Windows to try to reach into prestigious customer accounts. Dell, in cooperation with Microsoft and Intel, announced an agreement to give the Cornell Theory Center $60 million worth of Dell servers over four years.

The companies expect to benefit from the donation in part by gaining expertise in running Microsoft's operating systems and database software in high-performance environments and in translating Unix and Linux software common in the academic world to Windows. The center also will help Intel test its new Itanium processors.

Dell isn't just pushing Windows, though. MTU Aero Engine, which builds airplane engines, has bought a cluster of 64 Linux servers from Dell for its design work. Each server in the cluster has two Pentium III processors and will run SuSE's version of Linux, the companies said.

Linux NetworX, which unlike Dell specializes in joining large numbers of Linux servers into supercomputers, is among those to tap into the biotechnology market. Pharmaceutical maker Tularik plans to use the servers to speed the gene identification research part of its drug discovery work. The total system includes 150 processors, the company said.

SGI, a company that has always focused on high-end customers but has struggled in recent years, announced several deals Monday. Among them are Lockheed Martin Aeronautics for work on the Joint Strike fighter jet, the National Cancer Institute for biology, chemistry and anthrax research; Los Alamos National Laboratory for climate research; and TWR for automotive design work.

DaimlerChrysler placed a $6.4 million order with SGI to upgrade a center where computer designs can be evaluated on giant screens. Danish Broadcasting also placed a $6.5 million order for a digital newsroom project for sharing sound and video information for radio, television and Internet operations. And the National Supercomputer Center in Sweden expanded its system to 128 processors and 128GB of memory, though the system has crashed several times recently.