by Dave Cheung
This article is reprinted by permission from the January 1998 Scientific Computing and Automation magazine.
Exhibitors and visitors alike at last November's Supercomputing show shared a common sentiment: the focus of the event has shifted from actual supercomputing in favor of networking solutions, and open server architectures designed to support data-intensive applications.
A shift in customer bases
With companies showcasing everything from interconnect technology to high-end servers, it's apparent that the Supercomputing series is broadening its horizons.
"I agree it's not just a supercomputing show anymore," said David Valenz, a product marketing manager for Hewlett-Packard, one of the major attention-getters at SC97, which was held in San Jose, California, from Nov. 15-21.
"The show and the computing industry is changing. Supercomputing is the original name of this show, but I think that when this thing started, supercomputing was a futuristic technology for the few.
"Now it's different -- the technology is maturing and more people, like those in business, are using high-end servers and other hardware traditionally reserved for science- and engineering-related purposes," he explained.
The shift in customer bases for some exhibiting companies was reflected in the way many of the products were presented.
Mass data storage
Tandem Computers Incorporated (now a division of Compaq) billed their ServerNet interconnect technology as architecture that enables the design of open servers capable of managing the virtually unlimited amounts of data required by applications that incorporate image, voice, or video with traditional data.
According to information provided by Tandem, ServerNet is designed to meet businesses' need for flexibility and features such as shared-memory implementations to clustered environments and high-end parallel systems.
Nomi Trapnell, ServerNet product manager for Tandem, said she was also aware of the increase in networking products for businesses, but still sees science and engineering's strong presence at a show like SC97.
"There's still a huge role for scientific servers, but also for branch systems. When you're running a business you can't afford to have anything fail, so you use backup systems," said Trapnell.
Mass data storage was another problem to tackle. Computer Network Technology, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, made its mark by featuring its UltraNet storage product family at its booth.
The UltraNet products, which CNT will continue introducing throughout the first few months of 1998, are designed to keep the Storage Area Networks (SAN) working while network administrators address growing capacity demands and shorter timelines. Judging from the crowds gathered at CNT's booth, maintaining SANs weighed heavily on people's minds.
But possibly the biggest crowd-pleaser over the seven-day affair was Hewlett-Packard's public relations extravaganza that introduced the V-Class server. Several members of the San Francisco 49ers professional football team joined HP CEO Lou Platt on stage to unveil the V-Class, which is an upgraded addition to HP 's K- and S-Class high-end servers. Then, accompanied by applause, the football players carried the hefty server to a reception in an adjacent building.
Scientific computing: Alive and well
"The point we wanted to make was that the V-Class server is a commercially shipping product that was moving, not just a futuristic dream or science experiment," said HP's Valenza, adding that most of the V-Class's users worked in the scientific and engineering fields.
"Right now, we have a 256-CPU version being used at CalTech, and a 64-CPU version at the North Carolina Atmospheric Research Center," he said.
Also on hand to show that scientific computing was alive and well was IBM, which showed off its RS/6000 family of workstations that supports tasks ranging from mechanical CAD, seismic interpretation, and electronic design analysis to sophisticated, numeric-intensive tasks.
For users in the field of engineering analysis, the RS/6000 is designed to offer results in solving problems that involve stress, fluid flow, vibration and heat transfer.
Among the customers using IBM's services was the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), which is managed for the Department of Energy (DOE) by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). The charge of the PNNL is to develop safer, more effective, and less costly methods of eradicating pollutants from land, air, and water.
Robert Eades, a member of the PNNL, said that engineers were working with IBM to develop software that would help track ground water flow and pollutant patterns in waterways and water sources. Currently, cleaning up DOE sites costs almost $1 trillion with a timetable of roughly 30 years. Eades also said that the PNNL computational staff has about 60 members.
Between scientific and business users, SC'97 represented a wide range of interests. That's exactly what show organizers like. "Diversity is a good thing in this business," said Don Collier of DC Expo. "This is exactly the show we hoped for: lots of exhibitors talking to experts."
SC'98 is slated for Nov. 7-13 in Orlando, Florida. Anyone interested in show details can call (888) 778-SC98, or check the website at www.supercomp.org/sc98.