I D C T E C H N O L O G Y S P O T L I G H T
Dell: An HPC Market Leader in the Cluster Era
By Steve Conway, Earl C. Joseph, Ph.D., and Jie Wu
Sponsored by Dell
With minimal fanfare, Dell has become one of the world's top HPC vendors — third overall and
second in the large segment for departmental HPC systems. Dell has advanced in this market
because of the company's ability to produce price-competitive, standards-based, reliable computers
that match the needs of many HPC cluster buyers today. Dell is expanding its HPC strategy to enable
more direct partnering with customers in pursuit of their HPC goals.
Dell offers a wide spectrum of HPC systems and solutions, and the company has grown its customer
install base substantially in recent years. To maintain and accelerate its HPC growth, Dell will need to
continue striking the right balance between price competitiveness and value-added features and
capabilities. Dell has amassed experience deploying large-scale, Top500-class systems for
customers, and IDC believes that Dell has a substantial opportunity to benefit from the worldwide
"petaflop race" that is already under way.
Dell can also leverage its strength in departmental HPC systems to exploit the anticipated growth of
that segment. Finally, Dell's personal supercomputer offerings position the company to share in the
expected rebound of that market as the global economy recovers.
This Technology Spotlight looks at Dell and its rise to prominence in the worldwide HPC market. The
profile reviews Dell's history in HPC, the reasons for its success to date in this market, the company's
product portfolio and road map, and the challenges and opportunities Dell faces in this competitive market.
The HPC Market and the Rise of Standards-Based Clusters
In its formative era 25 years ago, the worldwide HPC server market was dominated by proprietary,
megaexpensive supercomputers from U.S. and Japanese vendors that were forced to customize
heavily because there were few standard component technologies for them to buy in the open
market. Since 2002, standards-based clusters have almost single-handedly propelled the growth of
the HPC server market; they captured 64% of $8.6 billion in revenue in 2009, and IDC projects that
they will exceed $10 billion in revenue in 2014.
Clusters have increasingly conquered the HPC market by offering irresistible price/performance. This
affordability has helped to democratize HPC, which is used today not just by government and
university researchers but to design products ranging from cars and planes to financial services
offerings, golf clubs, microwave ovens, animated/CGI films, potato chips, and diapers.
In the 1998–2001 period, clusters were typically self-built out of hand-me-down PCs and servers, with only
rudimentary software available to integrate this miscellany. Today, most HPC clusters are commercial
products that are sold by OEMs, with professional management software preinstalled and pretested.
But the evolution of clusters is far from over. Buyers/users want the latest x86 processors, higher
compute densities, improved energy efficiency, availability of accelerators such as GPGPUs, and
"ease of everything" — from purchasing to installing, maintaining, and upgrading these HPC systems.
Ease-of-everything attributes are especially important for smaller organizations and first-time HPC
users at larger sites.