Adecade of close scrutiny has shed much more light on the technical computing needs of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), but they are still shrouded in partial darkness. That’s hardly
surprising for a diverse global group with millions of
members ranging from automotive suppliers and shotgun
genomics labs to corner newsstands and strip mall nail
salons. Many SMEs presumably will never need HPC in
their lifetimes, while many others already benefit from this
game-changing technology or could do so. Some SMEs
are performing breakthrough work, often by using HPC
resources at large, national HPC centers.
WHAT DO WE KNOW?
Let’s zero in on this vibrant group that experts credit as
the principal growth engine in many economies. The manufacturing sector is replete with SMEs. Within that sector,
the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS)
reports that, in the U.S. alone, there are 300,000 SMEs
(defined as companies with 500 or fewer employees). These
firms account for 12 million jobs and are indirectly responsible for another 18 million — more than twice the employment of all large manufacturers combined.
Research results submitted for this article by Jon Riley,
NCMS vice president of digital manufacturing, indicate that
SMEs can be roughly divided into three categories:
• Those that have already adopted [HPC] digital tools
(~ 10 percent)
• Those that may be interested, but are unconvinced or
unable to adopt (~75 percent)
• Those that are not interested in adopting (~ 15 percent)
More later on the important minority who already use
HPC resources. Within the majority who don’t, an inter-
esting contingent consists of SMEs that perform technical
computing on desktop systems but have not moved up
to technical servers (HPC systems). Credit for initiating
research on this group goes to Suzy Tichenor (now at
ORNL) and Bob Graybill (now CEO of Nimbis Services).
During their time at the Council on Competitiveness, they
collaborated with IDC to investigate these “desktop-only”
users. The key findings from those 2007-8 studies are
largely applicable today:
• In many cases, the companies’ desktop computers were
not meeting their advanced requirements, resulting in
reduced competitiveness. They responded to this dilemma
by scaling down the problems to fit their desktop systems,
ignoring the problems, or reverting to much slower, more
expensive physical testing and prototyping.
• 40 percent of the organizations were already planning or
actively considering the move to HPC servers.
• The chief barriers to HPC adoption were inadequate
understanding, the perceived lack of “strategic fit” software and budget constraints. Some SMEs we interviewed
said moving to servers would boost annual ISV software
licensing costs from under $10,000 to nearly $50,000.
THE BOTTOM 100,000 BUY A LOT
A decade or so ago, a mega-IT company announced
plans to enter the HPC market and target not the top
500 supercomputer sites, but “the bottom 250,000.” The
plan did not succeed, but it made some sense. Although
the world’s 500 biggest supercomputers steal much of the
limelight, they represent less than one-half of one percent
of the approximately 110,000 HPC systems sold around
the world each year.
In 2013, HPC systems sold for less than $250,000 each
accounted for $5 billion in revenue, about half (49 percent) of the $10.3 billion in worldwide HPC server revenue. At an average price of $40,400, the sub-$250,000
systems consumed 1.7 million processor parts, 52 percent
of 3. 3 million processors shipped last year, according to
IDC research. The bottom half of the HPC market was
hammered during the global economic recession and
started coming on strong again last year. SMEs are not
the only ones that buy sub-$250,000 HPC systems, but
that’s where most SME buyers of HPC gear reside.
Small and Medium Enterprises
Enter the Limelight
Across the globe, HPC can boost competitiveness, and SMEs can play a strong part