IBM-Acquired Platform: Plan for Sustained, Partner-Friendly HPC Innovation Required

Over on LinkedIn, there’s an interesting discussion taking place in the “High Performance & Super Computing” group on the recently announced acquisition of Markham-based Platform Computing by IBM. My comment (below) was stimulated by concerns regarding the implications of this acquisition for IBM’s traditional competitors (i.e., other system vendors such as Cray, Dell, HP, etc.):

It could be argued:

“IBM groks vendor-neutral software and services (e.g., IBM Global Services), and therefore coopetition.”

At face value then, it’ll be business-as-usual for IBM-acquired Platform – and therefore its pre-acquisition partners and customers.

While business-as-usual plausibly applies to porting Platform products to offerings from IBM’s traditional competitors, I believe the sensitivity to the new business relationship (Platform as an IBM business unit) escalates rapidly for any solution that has value in HPC.

Why?

To deliver a value-rich solution in the HPC context, Platform has to work (extremely) closely with the ‘system vendor’. In many cases, this closeness requires that Intellectual Property (IP) of a technical and/or business nature be communicated – often well before solutions are introduced to the marketplace and made available for purchase. Thus Platform’s new status as an IBM entity, has the potential to seriously complicate matters regarding risk, trust, etc., relating to the exchange of IP.

Although it’s been stated elsewhere that IBM will allow Platform measures of post-acquisition independence, I doubt that this’ll provide sufficient comfort for matters relating to IP. While NDAs specific to the new (and independent) Platform business unit within IBM may offer some measure of additional comfort, I believe that technically oriented approaches offer the greatest promise for mitigating concerns relating to risk, trust, etc., in the exchange of IP.

In principle, one possibility is the adoption of open standards by all stakeholders. Such standards hold the promise of allowing for the integration between products via documented interfaces and protocols, while allowing (proprietary) implementation specifics to remain opaque. Although this may sound appealing, the availability of such standards remains elusive – despite various, well-intended efforts (by HPC, Grid, Cloud, etc., communities).

While Platform’s traditional competitors predictably and understandably gorge themselves sharing FUD, it obviously behooves both Platform and IBM to expend some effort allaying the concerns of their customers and partner ecosystem.

I’d be interested to hear of others’ suggestions as to how this new business relationship might allow for sustained innovation in the HPC context from IBM-acquired Platform.

Disclaimer: Although I do not have a vested financial interest in this acquisition, I did work for Platform from 1998-2005.

To reiterate here then:

How can this new business relationship allow for sustained, partner-friendly innovation in the HPC context from IBM-acquired Platform?

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this via comments to this post.

HP Labs Innovates to Sustain Moore’s Law

I had the fortunate opportunity to attend a presentation by Dr. R. Stanley Williams at an HP user forum event in March 2000 in San Jose.

Subsequently, I ran across mention of his work at HP Labs in various places, including Technology Review.

So, when I read in PC World that

Hewlett-Packard researchers may have figured out a way to prolong Moore’s Law by making chips more powerful and less power-hungry

I didn’t immediately dismiss this as marketing hyperbole.

Because of Moore’s Law, transistor density has traditionally grabbed all the attention when it comes to next-generation chips. However power consumption, and the resulting heat generated, are also gating (sorry, I couldn’t resist that!) factors when it comes to chip design. This is why there is a well-established trend in the development of multicore chip architectures. With the multicore paradigm, it’s an aggregated responsibility to ensure that Moore’s Law is of ongoing relevance.

Williams has found a way to sustain the relevance of Moore’s Law without having to make use of a multicore architecture.

Working with Gregory S. Snyder, the HP team has redesigned the Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) by introducing a nano-scale interconnect (a field-programmable nanowire interconnect, FPNI). As hinted earlier in this posting, the net effect is to allow for significantly increased transistor density and reduced power consumption. A very impressive combination!

Although Sun executive Scott McNealy is usually associated with the aphorism “The network is the computer”, it may now be HP’s turn to recapitulate.