[Beowulf] dollars-per-teraflop : any lists like the Top500?

Joe Landman landman at scalableinformatics.com
Wed Jun 30 07:13:34 PDT 2010

Prentice Bisbal wrote:

> These large supercomputers at national labs or large universities are
> often provided by the vendor for little or no profit (maybe even a loss)


> in exchange for prestige/advertising opportunities or R&D opportunities.

Hah.  Allow me to restate this.


It is extraordinarily rare that an entity will give you permission to 
use their name in any advertising.  The most you can hope for is, 
generally, a press release.

Prestige does not translate into (profitable) revenue.

> They make up this loss by selling to money-making corporations for a
> much bigger margin.

Hmmm ....

I think there may be a fundamental disconnect between the assumptions of 
folks in academia and the reality of this particular market.  I am not 
bashing on Prentis.  I would like to point out that the "much larger 
margins" in a cutthroat business such as clusters are ... er ... not 
much larger.

I could bore people with anecdotes, but the fundamental take home 
message is, if you believe this (much larger margins bit), you are mistaken.

The market for commercial HPC is under intense downward price pressure. 
  More so than ever before.  Companies, when they have money to spend, 
want to spend less of it, and get the same or better systems/performance 
than in the past.

What we are seeing is a fundamental change of business model, over to 
one that keeps upfront capital costs as low as possible, and pushes 
things to expense columns.

This is in part what is driving the significant interest in accelerators 
/APUs, and in remote cycle rental.  The costs associated with powering 
and cooling accelerators are minimal as compared to small/mid sized 
clusters.  The costs associated with very large clusters can be made 
into pure on-demand expenses with remote cycle rental.

> For example, I would not be surprised if IBM practically gave away
> RoadRunner to Los Alamos in exchange for the computing expertise at Los
> Alamos to help develop such an architecture and then be able to say that
> IBM builds the world's fastest computers (and that your company can have
> one just like it, for a price). Oh, and the users at Los Alamos probably
> provide lots of feedback to IBM which helps them build better systems in
> the future. (Don't shoot me if I'm wrong. I'm just theorizing here)

Don't sell the folks at TJ Watson/IBM Research short.  They are a very 
bright group.  The co-R&D elements are a way IBM can dominate the HPC 
bits at the high end, and provide something that looks like an in-kind 
contribution type of model so that LANL and others can go to their 
granting agencies and get either more money, or fulfill specific 
contract points.

IBM is a business, and in most cases, won't generally have a particular 
business unit make a loss for "prestige" points.  That doesn't make the 
board/shareholders happy.

> I used to work at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (www.pppl.gov), a
> Dept of Energy National Lab, and I can tell you many of the the systems
> sold to PPPL when I worked there was sold under a NDA, preventing anyone
> from discussing the price. Yes, the budgets are public information, but
> that tells you the computer hardware budget for a year, not how much was
> spent on each computer.

Well part of that is to prevent shopping the quote.  We see this *all* 
the time.  Someone asks for a quote, you provide it.  They then go and 
take your quote, elide specific company information, and then send it 
around asking others to beat it.

An NDA gives you a mechanism to stop this with a specific legal 
enjoinder from discussing terms.  Copyrighting quotes and specifically 
restricting redistribution of content and information contained is 
another method.

Joseph Landman, Ph.D
Founder and CEO
Scalable Informatics Inc.
email: landman at scalableinformatics.com
web  : http://scalableinformatics.com
phone: +1 734 786 8423 x121
fax  : +1 866 888 3112
cell : +1 734 612 4615

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