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IBM Supercomputing Hardware

NCSA and IBM Part Ways Over Blue Waters 76

Posted by timothy
from the back-to-the-amd-k6-2-for-now dept.
An anonymous reader writes "IBM has terminated its contract with NCSA for the petascale Blue Waters system that was expected to go online in the next year. The reason stated was that NCSA found IBM's technology 'was more complex and required significantly increased financial and technical support by IBM beyond its original expectations.' The IT community is now wondering if NCSA will be renting out space in the new data center that is being built to house Blue Waters or if they will go with another vendor."
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NCSA and IBM Part Ways Over Blue Waters

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  • Re:Translation (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 08, 2011 @10:05PM (#37029058)

    The reason stated was that NCSA found IBM's technology 'was more complex and required significantly increased financial and technical support by IBM beyond its original expectations.'

    As usual the /. summary is misleading at best. The actual language used was:

    The innovative technology that IBM ultimately developed was more complex and required significantly increased financial and technical support by IBM beyond its original expectations. NCSA and IBM worked closely on various proposals to retain IBM's participation in the project but could not come to a mutually agreed-on plan concerning the path forward.

    Other tidbits from the real press release are that IBM terminated the contract, not NCSA, IBM is refunding the money paid to date, and NCSA is giving back the hardware delivered to date.

    Translation:
    NCSA found that IBM was trying to lock them in with ultra proprietary technology that would have required IBM's expensive services for the life of the installation.

    That's a really dumb translation. Nobody expects a supercomputer to be commodity hardware. Just the opposite, as there is no such thing as a commodity supercomputer. Especially this kind of supercomputer, built in part to attain new performance records. When you buy something like that, you thoroughly expect vendor lock-in, expensive services, etc. There's only two or three vendors you can buy it from, and they're all going to be doing a lot of custom engineering for you, so proprietary is by definition what you're buying.

    The real translation here is: IBM realized there was no way to deliver on the original contract without taking a huge loss, and tried to negotiate with NCSA for more budget, or maybe reduced system capability, but NCSA couldn't or wouldn't do that. (Probably couldn't, I doubt they can just scare up more money at the drop of a hat. As for backing off, when your project was funded to build a "petascale" computer, you're pretty committed to delivering a petaflop, so scaling back capabilities was probably not an option.)

    Since the sides couldn't come to terms, IBM took a huge hit by terminating the contract. Yeah, they get their hardware back, but it's probably not very easy to sell to anybody other than NCSA. And they have to return all the money, which means they did a lot engineering work for $0, once again with few prospects of monetizing the work in a future deal.

    As for NCSA, even though they get the money back they still lost a lot too. Years of development down the tubes, and they have to start over (if at all) with a new supercomputer capable vendor. From scratch. At 2011 prices instead of 2007 prices. Which might well be a disaster for them if they couldn't afford to give IBM enough money to finish the original system.

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. -- Niels Bohr

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