International Markets Beckon HPC Makers
Whether they're looking to better serve multi-national conglomerates or reach new customers abroad, makers of advanced scale systems are expanding their efforts to reach customers across the world.
Recognizing the importance of these technologies, local governments and regional partnerships are investing heavily in high performance computing – a move that experts see trickling down to area enterprises anxious to mimic capabilities and team up with political allies. Almost five years before President Barack Obama unveiled the National Strategic Computing Initiative in August, Europe increased its HPC funding, IDC reported in "High Performance Computing in the EU: Progress on the Implementation of the European HPC Strategy."
In part, Europe's approach includes the creation of HPC Competence Centers (HPCs) – regional and national centers where enterprises, including small and midsize businesses, can tap into government expertise, similar to that offered at the United States' supercomputer labs. These centers also aid in industrial HPC-based development, education, innovation, and training, and enhancing the availability of an HPC workforce, IDC said.
Asia, of course, plays a crucial role in HPC, as well. China has held the top spot on the Top 500 for five years, while Japan has 39 on the list and South Korea unveiled Super IT Korea 2020, with plans to localize a supercomputer, in July.
There are several key differences in selling outside the United States, said Matthijs van Leeuwen, CEO and founder of Bright Computing in an interview. Although the company originated in Europe, it only recently placed a sales team in the region, and 70 percent of revenue are from the U.S., he said.
"What I often see is when American companies come to Europe they underestimate that Europe is not one market," said van Leeuwen. "The U.S. is one big market and you really can't say that of Europe. Maybe even more so, Asia-Pacific, Japan and China are so different when it comes to doing business."
The U.S. federal government is the single largest technology buyer, something unavailable in any other nation, he said. Software companies selling internationally often sell to government-led research institutions, universities, and smaller governments and agencies which can extend the sales process, said van Leeuwen.
"A lot of countries have a national supercomputing center and there's a lot of collaboration between them but there's also a lot of competition between them," he said. "If one of those national supercomputing centers is your customer, it doesn't mean much to a national supercomputing center in another country. In the U.S. it does; it serves as an introduction."
Local cultures, approaches to sales and marketing, and service needs may change depending on the region, but certain challenges (and opportunities) remain constant.
"The challenges are definitely the same technology-wise. As you look around the world, various countries tend to be at different places on the adoption curve so I would say the APAC region – China and the emerging APAC nations – seem to be on the leading edge of development and adoption and the US market tends to be pretty aggressive on the pace of adoption," said Brian Freed, vice president and general manager of high-performance data analytics at SGI. "In APAC they desperately need to get ahead of industrial nations. In the U.S. market there's still enough of that history of being pioneers and cowboys that we're still at the leading edge of trying new things."
Although many regions' governments and enterprises are adopting HPC – especially for newer solutions like cloud and big data, due to their lack of aging legacy infrastructure investments that must be amortized or replaced – some areas of the world cannot yet support these technologies. They lack regular access to basic utilities, Freed pointed out, making HPC a challenging option.
"The stark reality is many, many multinational companies have their core databases in very developed worlds. So you're not going to typically find these massive scale datacenters in places that don't have a very reliable utilities infrastructure and power grids," he said. "It's amazing how many multinationals are headquartered in Latin America or somewhere but have a datacenter in North Carolina or the United Kingdom. There's a natural tendency to concentrate critical resources where the infrastructure is stable."
Europe's recent change of heart with its Safe Harbor rule could alter that region's use of U.S. cloud providers' services and encourage more European enterprises to adopt in-nation datacenters, perhaps boosting HPC investment in the area.