IBM's rent-a-supercomputer comes to Europe

The Deep Computing Capacity on Demand facility in Montpellier is starting off small but by the summer should have the power of 512 processors to rent out

IBM has opened its first supercomputer-for-rent facility in Europe, though initially on a much smaller scale than its US counterpart.

The Deep Computing Capacity on Demand facility is based in IBM's service and support centre in Montpellier, France. With five 32-way pSeries servers and a cluster of dual processor xSeries servers, it is significantly smaller than IBM's other Deep Computing facility -- the 2,300-node supercomputer in Poughkeepsie, New York, which typically caters for a dozen customers at a time.

Even the 256 nodes planned for the Montpellier facility by this summer are unlikely to cater for more than two or three concurrent jobs, conceded Jean Marc Vandon, Deep Computing project manager at Montpellier. But, he said, IBM does expect demand to grow; the Poughkeepsie facility opened in June 2003 with 500 nodes, but that number grew quickly due to the high demand, he said.

At Montpellier, the pSeries servers run AIX or Linux, while the xSeries servers run Linux or Windows. There is a direct connection between the Montpellier and Poughkeepsie facilities, said Vandon, and this means that customers of one site will be able to tap into computing power from the other. IBM plans to implement grid technologies to make this process more transparent.

"This is best suited to the petroleum industry where it is important to process large amounts of data -- terabytes or hundreds of terabytes -- very fast," said Vandon. "All the big oil companies already have Linux clusters installed, and so adding capacity this way is easy. Some customers even have identical IBM equipment, so all they need to do is load up their application and transfer their data." Vandon added that car manufacturers and aerospace manufacturers have also shown interest.

A one-year contract, which costs 10,000 euros, gives customers exclusive use of four nodes, which means they can test applications and get used to the systems, said Vandon; when they want to run a big job across a large number of nodes they can rent the capacity they need. When grid technologies are added, IBM expects to be able to introduce a pay-for-use model to complement this reservation model.

When it comes to data transfer, IBM provides hardware encryption keys, and the data is sent through an IPSec virtual private network, though the company is also considering software encryption. "Data is a key asset for the company too; we need to have a strong security infrastructure," said Vandon.