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Software // Enterprise Applications
12:05 PM
Darrell Dunn
Darrell Dunn

Power Up With Utility Computing

IBM realizes the benefits of appealing to smaller companies to sell services, build loyalty, and get an edge in functionality

Startup QuantumBio Inc., a provider of software tools for drug, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical companies, is too little a business to pay a small fortune for an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer. But that doesn't mean QuantumBio can't offer its customers access to a piece of the same power that outfits like the U.S. Department of Energy enjoy. With the launch of IBM's fourth Deep Computing Capacity On Demand Center in March in Rochester, Minn., the door was opened for QuantumBio to take advantage of 5.7 teraflops--that's 5.7 trillion calculations per second--of Blue Gene's power.

Founded a little more than three years ago, QuantumBio is in a revenue-building stage and has limited internal computing capacity, says Lance Westerhoff, chief software engineer. Installing a Blue Gene system in-house to host its customers' drug simulations would have startup costs of around $2 million, plus there would be expenses associated with hiring people who have the skills needed to run the system and other maintenance costs. So instead, QuantumBio has IBM host its applications on the Blue Gene supercomputer, which IBM offers to its on-demand customers at a beginning price of $10,000 per week. QuantumBio sells its apps in a utility model.

A highly secure VPN provides QuantumBio customers with access to the utility. "Maybe the most intangible benefit is we could say to our customers, 'You're not working with a small company like QuantumBio to maintain your security, you're actually working with IBM,'" Westerhoff says.

Rather than buy an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer, companies can use the computer's power on an on-demand basis.

Rather than buy an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer, companies can use the computer's power on an on-demand basis.
IBM began its computing-on-demand effort in earnest a little over two years ago. It's an investment that the company hopes will put it into a leadership position in this emerging computing phenomenon. IBM also wants its centers to serve as a platform for customer innovation that requires IBM technology.

"It's an efficient model for us and an economical model for our clients," says Rebecca Austen, director of deep-computing marketing for IBM. "Deep computing on demand provides a new financial solution for cost of capital, cost of space, cost of power and cooling, and cost of administrative staff."

IBM operates four regional centers, where it has sold about 10 million hours of computing time to about two dozen active customers and others that have been experimenting with the technology, says David Gelardi, VP of deep computing capacity on demand for IBM. The centers offer customers access to clusters of computers based on Xeon processors from Intel, Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices Inc., and its own Power processors, as well as access to the latest Blue Gene supercomputer installation.

Its first center opened in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in June 2003 and now hosts more than 4,000 Xeon rack-mounted nodes, 240 Xeon blade-server nodes, and nearly 200 Opteron nodes. Its Montpellier, France, center has 500 Xeon nodes, and its Rochester, Minn., Blue Gene facility offers more than 2,000 CPU nodes.

IBM also has established a partnership with VeriCenter Inc., an independent provider of computing capacity, to offer more than 1,000 nodes of Xeon processor capacity out of VeriCenter's Houston offices, which are used primarily by local companies in the oil and gas industry. IBM counts this as one of its four on-demand computing installations.

The on-demand centers are located near fairly densely populated areas with access to high-bandwidth metropolitan area networks that let customers tap into the IBM computing resources from their offices. But IBM plans to open other centers as demand increases.

This story was updated Aug. 30.

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