Supercomputing show opens with focus on business IT

As more companies explore the possibility of adding supercomputers to their IT stables, prices of the machines continue to fall even as their computing power and flexibility for business use is growing.

The growth of supercomputing as an enterprise IT option is one of the highlights of this fall's SC2004 Supercomputing Conference, which kicks off Today in the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.

Some 7,000 attendees are registered for the 17th annual show, which brings together key vendors, scientists, researchers, software developers, business IT leaders and others to explore supercomputing. Betsy Riley, spokeswoman for the conference, said about 169 vendors will have exhibits at the event, expected to be the largest since it was first held in 1988.

Boosting interest in the show, she said, is the work being done by supercomputers for traditional IT tasks inside corporations and outside the traditional science and research uses. "A big push for next year is business analytics," Riley said. "You'll see a lot of that this year."

Dave Turek, vice president of deep computing at IBM, said the idea of using supercomputers in business IT settings is gaining popularity as commodity parts help to bring prices down at a time when business IT needs are increasing. The better efficiency of the latest hardware is also helping to make supercomputers more of an option because of savings on energy use and cooling bills, he said.

Businesses, including insurance companies, financial services firms and even some retailers, are starting to look at what supercomputers can do, he said. Logistics is one such area, Turek said, because supercomputers can help businesses compute delivery routes, supplies, capacity and timing. Credit card companies are using such machines for complex fraud detection analysis, while some retailers are starting to use them for intricate data mining. "Underneath, the mathematics of these problems all look the same," whatever the business need, he said.

"I think there's this kind of natural process unfolding before us ... which just several years ago was considered to be esoteric," he said.

Procter & Gamble, for example, is using supercomputers from Silicon Graphics for computer-aided engineering. In the past, traditional supercomputer use included science research into areas such as weather, astronomy and biotechnology, as well as exploration for oil and gas.

New at the conference this year will be the StorCloud initiative, which incorporates the storage community as an integral element of the event.

Among the 169 industry vendors at the show are IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Advanced Micro Devices, Platform Computing, Applied Micro Circuits, Unisys, Dell, Sun Microsystems, Penguin Computing and Linux Networx.

Some 160 universities, laboratories and other research groups will also have exhibits at the show, which runs through to Friday.