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high-performance computing


component may just be thrown away. But, he continued: ‘From a systems-support perspective, our business is increasing. Te support contract is an insurance policy for the systems administrator. Tese systems tend to be internally managed but they need second- line support, which might be a combination of incident-based support, and time-based review type support – quarterly visits to review how the system is running, and how we can do it more efficiently. Tat is an increasing part of our business.’ Again, the situation is paralleled on the


other side of the Atlantic. ‘Over the past couple of years, we have morphed our support organisation from replacing faulty components to an engineering-support function,’ Cherry said. ‘Sometimes the challenge may lie in the soſtware, not the hardware, and the expectation becomes that we will help them solve whatever the problem is. Because we are designing thousands of systems each year, we can draw on those use-cases. We have that information documented so we can draw on it.’ Integrating all the knowledge that is held within the company to make sure it is available when called on, is the challenge that Silicon Mechanics is tackling now. However it is done, customers’ expectations mean that the support service is more than just the warranty obligation. It is, in the end, this ability to get close to,


Around 350 projects are likely to run in the first year on Iridis 4 at the University of Southampton. The UK’s most powerful university-based supercomputer was designed, integrated and is supported by OCF.


to develop partnerships directly with those researchers who receive grant funds.’ But in the US as well, the requirements of


academic and commercial customers diverge: ‘A researcher at the University of Washington who has just won a several million dollar grant from the NIH or NSF has different needs and expectations from someone in the commercial sector who is building a private cloud. Education and research are focused on open technology and the cluster side of things; whereas, in private sector, the question is “what is my business case, and total cost of ownership?” ‘Customers, in the past, would come to us


and know what they wanted. Te input they expected from us was at a much lower level. But because things have become much more complex, it’s become a challenge for people to keep track of the latest technology and how it should be used. Te expectation on the integrator is much higher: to come up with


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different options; and come up with pros and cons; and introduce customers to technology they may not have heard of. Our role has changed a lot.’ But the demands on integrators are changing


not only at the ‘front end’ – when it comes to making a sale – the post-sales support role is also changing. Fielden sees post-sales support as key to the role of the integrator in this new phase of high-performance computing: ‘For every system that we have supplied, they have a support requirement and that will vary. We pride ourselves that we design our solutions according to the needs of the particular customer. Some customers need far more support than others, so we involve ourselves in project-development workshops to work out what the best level of support for a customer is.’ With commodity components, the nature of


post-sales support is changing. For hardware, the support tends to be a manufacturer’s warranty, and if it breaks, a commodity


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and understand, the customer that is the secret of success for integrators. According to Power: ‘HPC is a challenging industry, most of our pre-sales teams come from an HPC background. I myself was a user of HPC in an academic institute, so I have had that experience of having to procure and buy systems from vendors and as well as that having to run a service locally. Having that technical understanding is what is needed to work alongside customers and provide the solution that is right for them.’ For Cherry: ‘Te market is there and is


growing. What customers value most is the service and support they get from us. It’s a great space to be in, if you can figure out how to create that customer experience.’ Summing up the distinctive role of the


integrator, Fielden said: ‘Our value sits above the hardware and soſtware: it’s the skills we have in designing the solution, pulling it together, and supporting it. We have a library of thousands of scripts written over the years that help the systems to run better.’ An integrator needs to be professional all the way through and its services now need to be ‘enterprise class’, he said. Without the services of a good integrator: ‘You’ll get the bag of bits, instead of a system.’


APRIL/MAY 2014 21


University of Southampton


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