SUSE Shares View on HPC to Enterprise Transition

Linux is far and away the dominant operating system inside the largest supercomputing sites with 485 of the Top 500 list of fastest machines sporting some variant. Since many of these top-tier users have systems that have tailored, specialized versions of SUSE at their OS core, including any supercomputers from Cray or SGI, it is no surprise that SUSE’s play in HPC is strong—even if it is less obvious how those partnerships work in terms of how that OS revenue is calculated since they are part of a vendor’s packaging.

The revenue side of the HPC business is difficult to communicate, says the company’s product manager for the HPC division at SUSE. This is in part because the way these partnerships work, but more important, because the large academic and government installations are given significant discounts. Even still, Dupke says that while their HPC business might only be in the $10-20 million range (a number he used as a hypothetical example, but seemed credible enough to include) they still estimate they have a share of 1/3 of the top 100 on the list and many more beyond that. But the real value of that HPC market slice, even it only comprises an estimated 10% of their overall share of node counts or revenue (Dupke says that is difficult to break down due to discounts and the fact that they don’t separate HPC and large-scale enterprise datacenter wins), is not necessarily about what it adds to the bottom line.

“HPC is incredibly important to us, maybe not from a revenue view, but because so much of the development we make there goes into the distribution. We can stay ahead as we keep increasing the number of cores the Linux kernel can use and also, so much of what is needed in HPC, not just in terms of scalability, is going to be needed with our commercial customers,” said Dupke. He says that they do not treat HPC as a technology playground, but a central force in their development strategy.

When it comes to large-scale enterprise and commercial/traditional HPC sites, SUSE still has a long road to the top. According to Intersect360 Research CEO, Addison Snell, “We see a variety of Linux operating systems reported from across the HPC market. Overall, Red Hat has the largest share of systems in our surveys and CentOS and SUSE take up most of the rest, though we do get a few mentions of others, like Ubuntu and Scientific Linux.”

Source: Intersect360 Research, HPC User Site Census, 2014
Source: Intersect360 Research, HPC User Site Census, 2014

As of now, SUSE was ahead of the curve in terms of scalability in particular, allowing the kernel to stand its own against 8092 cores in an SGI shared memory system, a development that found its way into the SUSE Enterprise Server 12 release. It is also the OS supporting other large Cray and SGI systems at the top of the supercomputing tier, including the massive SGI UV machine European oil and gas giant Total uses and a similar site for BP in the United States. But SUSE looks beyond the ultra-massive systems for HPC, they say that more general enterprise uses are most focused on stability—and that is the tipping point that necessitates a move away from Debian or another community distribution to a supported enterprise version like SUSE. “For most of the commercial customers, if you offered them a 5% increase in performance over the same amount in stability, they would choose stability each time,” Dupke noted. This is likely to be the opposite for the large-scale supercomputing set, but having a system that simply works, especially as more commercial datacenters are adding new applications to contend with increased volumes and needs around data analytics.

Dupke says that even though a lot of the development that goes into HPC eventually trickles down, some aspects, including GPUs and the use of specialized systems (i.e. the Cray and SGI shared memory machines) are not catching on much in enterprise, mostly because these users simply want to stand up a cluster and get it running as quickly and easily as possible. Their needs are more driven by the requirement to put more data-centric computing resources into play using existing off the shelf hardware and looking for ways to integrate the storage into the system—an aspect of development that SUSE’s Meike Chabowski says the company will focus on as well.

Chabowski says that another example of how their HPC research efforts are adding to their enterprise appeal is through work being done to increase power efficiency. “This is something that has been very important in HPC for some time, but what we are doing here is going to have an even more important role for our commercial users, not just for enterprise HPC.” SUSE does have some notable customers in enterprise HPC, including Audi, NASA, Porsche, MTU Aero Engines and others in oil and gas and increasingly, media and entertainment (a very rapidly growing area for commercial HPC according to Dupke).

When it comes that traditional HPC Chabowski references, she says growth will continue to be strong, even if it has stabilized at the Top 500 level over the last couple of years (something that has happened to the list itself, with very little change in the status of the performance gap). “We’ve been in the market since 1992, which was at the beginning of both Linux and HPC. From the earliest moments, HPC started checking out Linux and it helped that we were there first, and had the first Linux in the market that supported the 64-bit chipset and the first to support multicore chips, so we’ve quite often been there and trying new things for the HPC community in particular. After a certain time we’ve been the Linux of choice—something that started in research, universities and government but has remained very stable.”

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