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HPC User Site Census: Systems

by Christopher G. Willard, Ph.D., Erin Diaz, Debra Goldfarb, Addison Snell
for Intersect360 Research (originally published under the Tabor Research name)
August 2008

Tabor Research surveyed the High Productivity Computing user community to complete its first Site Census Report, a detailed examination of the server systems found at a sample of HPC user sites. We surveyed users on their systems’ suppliers, architectures, node counts, operating systems, interconnects, memory usage, processor types, and storage. We additionally surveyed users on their server storage systems, networks, middleware and software, which will be covered in future reports to be released throughout the year.

We analyzed the data to recognize trends in system characteristics within the HPC user communities and explored how the data varies based on categories such as server supplier, architecture, node configuration, etc.

Some key findings of the survey are as follows:

  1. The average node count among surveyed sites is near 200. Three quarters of the systems installed are cluster or blade systems, and over 90% of the systems surveyed are message-passing distributed-memory systems. Clusters average more nodes than blades and more memory per node than blades.
  2. SMPs garnered only around 1% of processor share; this is a strong indication that standalone shared-memory systems are no longer significant players in the market. Price per unit of performance may be playing a large role in purchasing decisions despite the perception that many users would prefer SMP systems to distributed-memory systems.
  3. Annual budgets have an effect on the number of nodes found at a given site, but not necessarily on the number of separate systems found at that site. Sites possessing budgets under $1,000,000 seem just as likely to have multiple HPC systems as sites possessing budgets over $1,000,000.
  4. Dell had a significantly greater presence in this Site Census than we expected, given the company’s apparent market share from supplier-based data. Tabor Research will continue to investigate whether Dell may have more systems placed into HPC environments than either it or Tabor Research is aware of.
  5. The average age of systems surveyed is 3.0 years, and SMPs remain in use longer than other system architectures.
  6. Linux is by far the most commonly used operating system. Red Hat Linux is used found in almost twice as many systems as SUSE Linux. Microsoft Windows is beginning to gain a presence in commercial HPC accounts with smaller budgets.

Based on the data and analysis in this report, Tabor Research encourages suppliers to pursue market strategies based on more than just a user site’s annual budget. Data in the Site Census demonstrates that although some sites may not possess enormous purchasing power, that does not mean they are unwilling to purchase additional systems. Smart suppliers will cultivate channels to reach an increased number of smaller sites as part of their marketing strategy.

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