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Dell applied its formula of standards and commodity components to high-performance computing clusters with the introduction Monday of a bundle of servers, switches, and host-channel adapters. With the new package, the company aims to drive down the cost of high-performance computing, a niche market known to be willing to pay a premium for highly customized configurations.
The key to Dell's strategy is to combine its two-way PowerEdge 1850 servers powered by Intel Xeon EM64T processors with InfiniBand switches and PCI Express host-channel adapters from Topspin Communications Inc. The bundle addresses three requirements of supercomputing configurations: increased input/output bandwidth, processing capability, and memory size, says Reza Rooholamini, Dell's director of enterprise solutions engineering.
The package, which runs Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3, starts at $55,000. Dell's comparable Itanium-based high-performance computing configuration, which doesn't support InfiniBand, starts at $75,000.
Dell may be ready for the high-performance computing market, but it's uncertain whether this market is ready to embrace Dell, Gartner research VP John Enck says. "It's a good-news/bad-news scenario," he says. "This is another step toward the standardization of the high-performance computing cluster market. Dell is seeing volume-selling opportunities in that space, but it doesn't mean that the entire space is ready to be commoditized."
Enck says that many scientists and researchers who depend upon high-performance clusters still want very specific configurations that Dell and its top-tier competitors--Hewlett-Packard and IBM--don't provide cheaply.