IBM Platform Decisions HPC

With its recent acquisition of Platform Computing, IBM is betting on emerging demand for high-performance computing solutions.

With its recent acquisition of Platform Computing Inc. (PCI), IBM Corp. is betting on emerging demand for high-performance computing (HPC) solutions.

Think of it as HPC gone mainstream. The idea is that enterprise IT organizations will increasingly tap technical compute capacity to help them process, manage, and analyze massive amounts of data. IBM believes such rank-and-file enterprise IT organizations represent a greenfield opportunity for HPC.

“[T]he acquisition of Platform Computing ... [is] a strategic element for the transformation of HPC into the high-growth segment of technical computing and an important part of our smarter computing strategy,” said Helene Armitage, general manager of IBM Systems Software, in a statement. Armitage said IBM plans to leverage Platform’s assets “across IBM” to provide companies “with technology that helps draw insights to fuel critical business decisions or breakthrough science.”

Questions and More Questions

The Platform acquisition has some questioning the acquisition.

After all, Platform Computing specializes in cluster and grid management software, but Big Blue already develops and markets all kinds of cluster and grid management solutions. IBM is likewise perceived as a leader in the technical computing segment. More recently, IBM and Platform faced off against one another in the burgeoning cloud computing segment; earlier this year, for example, Big Blue announced a new offering (its HPC Management Suite for Cloud) that competes with PCI’s Platform ISF in the cloud arena.

In October, IBM announced the availability of platform-as-a-service (PaaS) assets -- database, middleware, and other offerings -- for its SmartCloud Enterprise+ service.

Quite aside from competitive interaction, IBM and Platform Computing enjoy a long-standing collaboration that goes back at least a decade.

Why did IBM decide to pull the trigger and acquire Platform Computing? IBM officials say PCI’s technology will complement its existing HPC solutions, particularly when it comes to helping IT organizations create, integrate, and manage shared computing assets used in grid, cluster, or cloud configurations.

Platform also brings something special to the table. IBM surely learned a thing or two about analytics as a result of its acquisition of the former SPSS Inc. two years ago.

Platform Computing, which boasts more than 2,000 enterprise customers, is -- in its own way -- as much of a best-of-breed superstar as SPSS (in its standalone incarnation) used to be, so isn’t there something PCI could likely teach Big Blue about grids, clusters, or cloud? That’s the perspective endorsed by veteran industry watcher Charles King, a principal with consultancy Pund-IT, who argues that “Platform’s near two decades in technical computing has resulted in an enviable depth and breadth of technical experience.”

Sure, King concedes, there’s bound to be overlap -- of a sort. “Even though some of its assets and products likely overlap with IBM offerings, Platform is still likely to help fuel or speed the development of new commercial solutions,” he writes.

“That carries obvious immediate benefits but is also likely to pay even greater dividends as technical and high performance computing technologies play increasingly larger roles in mainstream business applications, corporate data centers, and hosted service offerings.”

In addition to giving Big Blue’s HPC efforts an immediate boost, King thinks the acquisition is bound to bear fruit over the long haul, too.

“[O]wning Platform outright should provide IBM an immediate leg-up competitively, [but] the actual benefits of the deal are likely to be much longer lasting,” King argues. “Platform’s grid and clustering expertise stands at the very epicenter of cloud computing[,] so the company is likely to play an elemental role in helping IBM incorporate high performance and technical computing solutions in its evolving cloud and Smarter Planet portfolios. Those will certainly include traditional HPC and supercomputing applications, as well as related areas, like IBM’s Business Analytics, Big Data, and vertical industry-focused solutions.”

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