Lenovo at SC 16 – A Commitment to HPC Innovation

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  November 16, 2016

How companies evolve after major acquisitions is usually interesting and seldom predictable, as numerous examples can show. That’s especially true in the rare cases where one company acquires multiple properties from another, as Lenovo has from IBM. In 2005, Lenovo purchased IBM’s PC division and assets, then repeated the process in 2014 with IBM’s System x server organization and Intel-based products.

In the former case, some competitors suggested that Lenovo (then known mainly for its sales in China and other Asia markets) would be a poor steward for IBM’s Thinkpad and its solid business-class reputation. The company quickly proved those critics wrong, and steadily expanded its PC and notebook portfolios and market position. Then in Q3 2012, Lenovo achieved what many considered unthinkable and surpassed HP to become the world’s largest maker of PCs by volume, a position it continues to enjoy.

The acquisition of IBM’s System x group is somewhat similar in how it allowed Lenovo to immediately and significantly expand its portfolio of data center solutions. Enterprise systems have little in common technologically or commercially with commodity PCs, so it would be a mistake to suggest that what the company has accomplished in one market can be mirrored in the other.

At the same time, since the deal closed Lenovo has steadily increased its enterprise systems offerings through both internal development efforts and creative collaborations with strategic partners. An examination of those offerings and efforts suggest that anyone dismissing the company’s data center ambitions would be foolish to do so.

Lenovo at SC 16

At the Supercomputing 2016 (SC 16) conference in Salt Lake City, Lenovo revealed its latest high-performance computing (HPC) efforts, including open source contributions, new solutions and market successes. What did the company announce?

  • Open source contributions – A year after joining OpenHPC as a founding member, the company’s xCAT/Confluent based OpenHPC recipe for system management and provisioning was accepted by the consortium. Lenovo also announced a new OpenHPC contribution, an easy to use GUI named Antilles, which was designed to optimally and transparently run and manage HPC, big data and workflows on a virtualized infrastructure while adjusting dynamically to specific users and datacenters
  • New storage solutions – The Lenovo D3284 JBOD is a resilient, ultra-dense 5U 84-disk enclosure that incorporates high performance 12Gb capability with hot swap SSD and HDDs to support use cases, including software-defined file storage, video surveillance, and backup and archive. Lenovo’s new Distributed Storage Solution (DSS) leverages JBOD hardware, as well as Lenovo’s existing Server and SAN portfolio for scale out file storage targeting high performance and data intensive environments. The first release, Lenovo’s DSS-G, is a software-defined storage implementation leveraging IBM Spectrum Scale RAID. DSS-G customers can start with as few as 22 disks, but systems can support up to 670 HDDs in a single distributed RAID array, enabling users to scale out to over 6 Petabytes by simply adding additional JBODs and disks. DSS-G availability is expected in 1H 2017. Lenovo also announced that it has become the latest reseller of Intel’s Enterprise Edition for Lustre software, providing clients additional choices in managing file systems and topologies.
  • Market successes – Lenovo noted that phase one of its supercomputing installation at CINECA, an academic consortium in Italy, was completed in May 2016 – coming in at 1.7 PFLOPs. Lenovo and CINECA also announced the delivery and installation of phase two, a 3,600 node Intel Xeon Phi-based installation with 100Gb Intel Omni-Path fabric that delivers 6.2PFLOPs of performance. Finally, Lenovo noted that it has increased its share of systems in the latest TOP500 list of the world’s top-performing supercomputers, just the fifth list on which its systems have been included. Lenovo is now ranked the #1 vendor in China and #2 on the TOP500 list in terms of overall quantity.

Final analysis

HPC and supercomputing systems and installations are often highly esoteric when compared to conventional grade server solutions and sales. But they provide undeniable proof and validation for ambitious vendors’ high achievements, and can lead to further commercial engagements.

In addition, what were once advanced HPC technologies steadily find their way downstream into commercial systems, enriching business organizations and participating vendors. Lenovo is now firmly embedded in this “virtuous cycle,” and the company is proving itself a worthy steward of the technologies it creates and acquires, as well as those it obtains from core strategic partners, like Intel.

The company’s notable success in the TOP500 list is also worth considering in terms of its past achievements. In the previous June 2016 list, leading vendor (by quantity) HPE had 33 more systems on the list than Lenovo, while today just 20 systems separate the two companies. Given Lenovo’s ongoing advancement and market position, it seems likely that the company will soon surpass HPE in supercomputing leadership just as it once did in PC sales.

There’s certainly a good deal of irony in that point, but it’s also an achievement that wouldn’t be possible without Lenovo’s continuing commitment to technological investment and innovation.

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