Lenovo Announces New Initiatives/Solutions at Supercomputing 2014

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  December 3, 2014

At Supercomputing 2014 (SC14), Lenovo announced several new initiatives that aim to bring the commercial benefits of high performance computing (HPC) to a broader spectrum of clients and workloads. They included:

  • A new Lenovo HPC Innovation Center in Stuttgart, Germany that will establish a permanent benchmarking and R&D site for the company, and will offer a broad ecosystem of technologies and skills to help clients optimize their applications. Key partners, including Intel and Mellanox, are involved in Lenovo’s effort to create a state-of-the-art system powered by Intel Xeon E5 2600 v3 + Xeon Phi coprocessors that leverages Mellanox’s new EDR 100Gb/s InfiniBand interconnect fabric. The installation of the Stuttgart center will begin in December and will be online for client use in January 2015. Collaboration with key client partners is already underway.
  • The world’s highest-performing, two-socket server with the Intel Xeon E5 2698A v3 processor, a CPU optimized for HPC workloads (16 cores running at up to 3.2GHz with turbo mode enabled) and available only in specially designed servers such as Lenovo’s NeXtScale System with Water Cool Technology (WCT). The Intel E5-2698A v3, when installed in the NeXtScale with WTC, is the industry’s highest-performing, two-socket server platform, effectively breaking the single-node one teraflop barrier (1.083 teraflops) without requiring accelerators. Owing to the extreme efficiency of the water-cooled thermal design, the NeXtScale with WCT can reduce power consumption at a processor level by six percent and at a data-center level by more than 40 percent, as most installations can run without the need for costly chilled-water systems.
  • Lenovo’s futuristic ”peta cube” demonstration showcased how one petaflop of performance — initially supported by nearly 6,000 square feet with 296 racks weighing upwards of half a million pounds — will soon be available within a condensed 42U tall, four-by-four-foot space comprised of two standard racks of Lenovo’s NeXtScale System with WCT and Intel’s Knights Landing technology. This will allow Lenovo to provide petaflop compute capacity to mainstream clients that might lack the operating budget and data-center capacity to support a current generation petaflop system.

The pitch

Lenovo’s energized Enterprise Systems Group comes out swinging at Supercomputing 2014.

Final analysis

The IT industry has long inspired and facilitated a “trickle down” market dynamic where cutting edge solutions that could once be afforded by only the deepest pocketed enterprises and government agencies eventually become available to far broader commercial markets and customers. In fact, Lenovo offered a graphic example of this point during a briefing with IT analysts to discuss its SC14 announcements.

The company noted that in 2000, IBM (whose System x assets and organization Lenovo acquired a few months back) placed its first x86-based cluster (called Los Lobos) on the Top500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers where it was the 80th ranked system. One rack of the Los Lobos cluster weighed in at nearly 1200 pounds and required 5 kW of power to deliver 14.64 GFlops Rpeak performance.

Today, a “cluster” of two Lenovo Yoga tablets weighing less than two pounds and consuming just 4W of power can deliver 14.88 GFlops Rpeak performance.

That point may seem a bit melodramatic if it weren’t so commonplace across the tech industry, both historically and contemporaneously. So what does it mean in the context of Lenovo’s SC14 announcements?

Two things – one tactical and the other strategic. First, Lenovo sees a way clear and is plotting a course to deliver groundbreaking, next generation HPC options to wide swaths of its commercial customers. The company certainly intends those solutions to deliver world-dominating performance, but it is also developing them with broader issues in mind, including ensuring that computational excellence is paired with compelling TCO-friendly energy efficiency.

Strategically speaking, the SC14 announcements also demonstrate the degree to which Lenovo has been energized by the IBM System x acquisition it initially closed on October 1st. What does IBM have to do with this? For years, the company enjoyed a leadership position in higher end Intel-based systems, including HPC, mainly due to innovative, premium technologies it developed for its System x portfolio. Those include the NeXtScale platform with WCT that is key to Lenovo’s HPC solution arsenal.

But the fact is that NeXtScale comprises just a small fraction of the enterprise systems assets that came to Lenovo in the System x acquisition. The SC14 announcements clearly demonstrate that now, just weeks after the deal closed, Lenovo is up and ready to roll to market. If any competitors were convinced or hoped that Lenovo would take its sweet time easing into the enterprise marketplace, the company’s announcements at Supercomputing 2014 will leave them sadly disappointed.

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