High-performance computing: a worthwhile investment for enterprise firms?

HPCs are increasingly moving from research-based organisations and becoming more useful for the enterprise. We take a look at current adoption rates and outline some of the reasons firms are implementing HPC.

Just a few short months ago, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced its $1.3 billion acquisition of supercomputing leader Cray. The acquisition marked a curious venture for the HPE, who — as the lead supplier in the global high-performance computing market — had traditionally set their ambitions towards more low-key, less expensive HPC solutions, servicing mostly commercial markets. Meanwhile, Cray has had their hand in the very highest of the high-end of HPC implementations, even lending a helping hand in the development of the world's first ‘Exascale' supercomputer for the US Department of Energy, known as Aurora.

However, their difference in clientele ultimately amounted to a match made in heaven, with HPE receiving access to high-end markets and Cray's advanced technologies, such as its new high-speed interconnect, known as Slingshot. Although, as much as Cray's acquisition highlighted an interest of HPE to enter into the public-sector dominated high-end HPC markets, it also provides a bit of a boost and increased validation for its private sector offering and - along with it - the commercial/private HPC market in general.

This is particularly evident on a technological level, as Cray's Shasta architecture (i.e. the one that powers Aurora) provides capacity for the use of multiple processor types, including x86, ARM, and, significantly, GPUs. It's easy to see how the private sector would benefit from such technology, given the increasing prominence of machine learning technologies in enterprise organisations, and noting ML's dependency on GPU-accelerated processing.

HPE's acquisition served to further validate the enterprise-focused HPC market and the increasing significance of HPC to private organisations. While traditionally, the use of HPC has mostly been used by the public sector in research institutions or government facilities, the private sector is increasingly picking up implementation. HPE's billion-dollar investment into the sphere should be recognised in conjunction with the increasing uptake of HPC for business purposes, along with assessment of the potential reasoning behind this phenomenon. In truth, more and more businesses are using HPC in a variety of ways and seeing healthy ROIs for their efforts.

Uptake in HPC implementations

According to data from Intersect360, the total worldwide HPC market - including servers, storage, software, cloud and all other implementations - reached $35.4 billion in 2017. This represents an increase of 1.6% over figures from 2016. Within that, most HPC usage is actually within private entities rather than public, with 56.6% of HPC-related revenue going to commercial firms, while 17.7% of revenue is academic related, and 25.7% is government related.

While the single biggest sector for HPC revenue is unsurprisingly the academic/NFP sector, financial services is hot on its tail, posting some of the biggest gains for the year. Other commercial sectors with big investments in HPC, according to Intersect360, include large product manufacturing, energy, retail, consumer product manufacturing, media and entertainment, chemical, and electronics. Looking forward, the commercial side of HPC is forecast to continue driving growth for HPC revenues in general, with Intersect360 tipping commercial sectors to make up 60% of all HPC market revenue by 2022.  

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