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6 posts categorized "supercomputing"

July 09, 2014

Does IBM have future in Vermont?

Here's a little chunk from a well-researched, long article written by Paul Heintz from Vermont's alt paper, Seven Days.

While there is no direct link (as far as I know) between the fate of the Vermont campus and the one in Rochester, this does sound familiar. For anyone interested in the what is happening with Big Blue, this is a pretty worth-while read.

You can read the full article at this link.

What we're looking at is a city," Frank Cioffi says, nodding at a sprawling landscape of industrial buildings, electrical transformers and storage tanks on the banks of the Winooski River.

The 59-year-old economic development guru steers his black Nissan Maxima toward a guard shack that stands sentry at the northeastern entrance to IBM's Essex Junction campus.

"We're not going to Bildebe able to get in," he says, pulling a U-turn and retreating from the fortress. "Security is watching us."

In more certain times, the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation president might easily escort a reporter through the 725-acre campus, which GBIC developed from farmland 60 years ago. But with Big Blue reportedly nearing a sale of its chip-making division to Emirate of Abu Dhabi-owned GlobalFoundries, IBM Vermont is on lockdown.

Even Cioffi, its loudest local cheerleader, is in the dark about what a sale might mean for the 4,000-plus jobs remaining at the facility. Like many, he suspects IBM will reveal its intentions next week when it releases its second- quarter earnings report.

"We're dealing with two public corporations that aren't going to tell us anything, because they can't," he says.

Clouds of uncertainty have lingered over Essex Junction for more than a decade, as the company has retrenched and its Vermont workforce dwindled from a 2001 peak of 8,500. But never have the skies above the industrial park looked so dark.Ibm-logo

As IBM repositions itself as a services-oriented company focused on cloud computing, it has jettisoned less profitable hardware operations. In January, it struck a deal to sell off its low-end server business to China-based Lenovo for $2.3 billion.

Though GlobalFoundries specializes in the very chip-manufacturing work conducted at the Essex Junction plant, reports in the financial press have indicated that the company is interested in IBM's patents and engineers — not its aging facilities.

January 28, 2014

Mayo Clinic to ramp up link to Dept. of Defense

My colleague Jeff Hansel is writing an article about Mayo Clinic opening an office called Mayo Clinic Department of Defense Medical Research Office to better connect with Dept. of Defense for contracts and research.

Watch for Jeff's article on this soon.

I've touched on this topic in past years, so I dug up some info about recent DOD contracts with Mayo.

MayodefenseSince 2000, Mayo Clinic in Rochester has received about $41 million from the DOD. About $37 million of that $41 million was paid out for "Research and Development - Missile/Space Systems - Advanced Development," according to federal government records.

The majority of that work is done at the Dept. of Defense Medical Research Office, which is in the Mayo Support Center on West Circle Drive. That office has long been spearheaded by Dr. Barry K. Gilbert.

Some of the recent projects, according to federal contract records, include:

• R&D Services for Development and Demonstration of Capabilities of Hybrid Supercomputer

• Development of Ultra-High Linearity X-Band Mixers

• Study of Energy Harvesting Concepts, Evaluation of Quantum Orbital Magnetic Resonance Technologies

•R&D Services for Study of Energy Harvesting System Concepts

• Optical Communications: Monte Carlo Model - Preparation of Full-Scale Optical Communications Test.

I can't pretend to know what much of that means, though I believe the hybrid computer deal has something to do with immunizations and fighting virulent outbreaks. The optical communcations, I think, has something to do with transmitting medical information between hospital sites.

I confess this side of Mayo has always fascinated me. Hopefully, the creation of this new office will mean more of a spotlight will shine on Mayo Clinic's interesting military work.

October 17, 2013

IBM's Watson + Cleve Clinic and Mayo + Optum

Improving healthcare is an ongoing project, particularly here in Rochester.

Here are a couple locally linked tidbits I came across this week about efforts that are using technology to attack this issue.

IBM-Watson-Jeopardy-500x285First, everyone remembers IBM's Jeopardy-playing supercomputer Watson. Much of its development occured here in Rochester. I remember the UMR hosting a big viewing session for local business leaders and Mayo Clinic execs, so everyone could watch the celebrity computer answer Alex Trebec.

These days Watson is specializing in helping doctors at the Cleveland Clinic. They announced some developments this week.
Ibm-watson-david-ferrucci-2IBM Research unveiled two new Watson-related cognitive technologies that are expected to help physicians make more informed and accurate decisions faster and to cull new insights from electronic medical records (EMR).

The projects known as "WatsonPaths" and "Watson EMR Assistant" are the result of a year-long research collaboration with fa culty, physicians and students at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University. Both are key projects that will create technologies that can be leveraged by Watson to advance the technology in the domain of medicine.

• WatsonPaths explores a complex scenario and draws conclusions much like people do in real life. When presented with a medical case, WatsonPaths extracts statements based on the knowledge it has learned as a result of being trained by medical doctors and from medical literature.

WatsonPaths can use Watson's question-answering abilities to examine the scenario from many angles. The system w Watson2orks its way through chains of evidence -- pulling from reference materials, clinical guidelines and medical journals in real-time -- and draws inferences to support or refute a set of hypotheses. This ability to map medical evidence allows medical professionals to consider new factors that may help them to create additional differential diagnosis and treatment options.

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Of course, Mayo Clinic's involved in many projects to improve medical treatments and healthcare in general.

One such project is the "strategic research alliance" Mayo Clinic formed in January with OptumHealth, a technology and consulting division of the Minnetonka, Minn.-based health insurer UnitedHealth Group.

Together they launched Optum Labs in Cambridge, Mass. Optum Labs CEO Paul Bleicher spoke about what they are doing at a conference this week.

Mayo_optum_690Optum Labs will use claims and clinical data to answer pressing health questions. It will use a database that includes 149 million patient records from UNH, electronic medical records covering 5 million lives from Mayo Clinic, and 12 million electronic medical records from Humedica.

Speaking at the recent StrataRx conference in Boston, Optum Labs CEO Paul Bleicher, M.D., Ph.D., said Cambridge, Mass.-based Optum will use advanced analytics and data visualization techniques to support research and innovation projects that will improve patient care and lower cost.

The new partnership of Mayo Clinic and OptumHealth also represents a source of new opportunities for healthcare entrepreneurs, said Bleicher, who expects new health IT companies to emerge from this effort. "That is one of the goals," Bleicher said. "We want to develop technologies and innovations that could be spun off into companies, in collaboration with venture capitalists."

He said Optum Labs is actively seeking other partners and "accepting applications from anybody doing research who is willing to do so with complete transparency, in a non-commercial fashion." The mission is "very public, publication research that will advance the cause of healthcare and anyone who participates." Influencing healthcare policymakers is also one of the goals, he said.

ViewMediaAnother priority of Optum Labs is enlisting "new partners who will bring additional data of high value," Bleicher said. "We want other payers - and everybody - to be in the tent, because if all of the data is in one place, there is opportunity to dive deep into it." It will also be important that "the findings don't stay stuck in 'silos' but are distributed widely, so they become valuable for more than just a few organizations."

The cost of some of the projects Optum Labs undertakes could be shared by National Institutes of Health grants or by partnering with life sciences or IT companies, Bleicher added.

Mark Hayward, administrator of Mayo Clinic's Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery, said there will be "information technology that will come out of our labs that will spin off new technologies and methodologies."

August 29, 2013

Scraps of IBM news on servers, chips

Here's a sort of round-up of IBM news tidbits. They are mostly about the chip and server struggles, but I end on a brighter note about the Power8 chips. No word on how all of this could directly impact Rochester, but I am pursuing a story what the Power consortium means for the Rochester campus.

• Here's the take from the IDG News Service in PC World on the latest server sales report.

The server business continued to slide in the second quarter with worldwide revenue and unit sales down, IDC said Tuesday.

Revenue was down 6.2 per cent to $11.9 billion in the second consecutive quarter of year-over-year decline, as demand for servers continued to soften in most geographic regions, the research firm said. Unit shipments were also down 1.2 percent to 2 million, after also falling in the previous two quarters.

5115638122_5bf17912ccThe highest fall in revenue was in midrange systems, which dipped by about 22 percent year-over-year, while volume systems had a 2.4 percent revenue decline and revenue from high-end systems dipped 9.5 percent in the quarter ended June.

IBM held the number one position in the server market with a 27.9 percent share of revenue, but its share was down from over 29 percent last year. The company’s server revenue fell in the quarter by 10 percent year-over-year because of low demand for System x and Power Systems. IBM’s System z mainframe running z/OS, however, had a third consecutive quarter of growth, with revenue up by 9.9 percent year-over-year to $1.2 billion. The mainframe accounted for 9.8 percent of server revenue in the quarter.

• Here's some from a gloomy overall commentary from EE Times' Silicon Valley Bureau Chief Rick Merritt with the headline "IBM's Last Stand in CPUs?"

The Open Power Consortium could become IBM's last stand in microprocessors with huge implications for the future of Big Blue.  

Years ago, IBM took a shot at the mainstream PC market when it forged its PowerPC alliance with Motorola. Intel won, and the partners retrenched into the embedded market with the Power.org consortium. These days, their embedded partners -- LSI, Freescale, and others -- are all shifting to ARM cores.

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IBM buildinglogoExacerbating IBM's woes, the company appears to have been designed out of at least two of the three next-generation game consoles where it once provided its Cell multicore processor, ASIC technology, and other goodies. Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's Playstation 4 both use AMD's cores. The muscular, custom console processors once were significant drivers of process technology and profits for Big Blue.

Now IBM is left to defend its main stronghold, the high-end server. This, too, is under siege.

These days the massive scale-out datacenters of web giants such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are increasingly driving server technology and volumes. The x86 rules here along with an emerging streamlined style of design that's in opposition to the muscular scale-up style IBM practices for its classic customers in banking, government, and scientific markets.

Even in the Top 500 Supercomputers, IBM's old turf, it is losing ground to scale out designs using Nvidia GPUs paired with racks of x86 systems. Now Intel is coming on strong here with its own multicore Xeon Phi, which some say is offering higher performance, lower cost, and easier development than Nvidia GPUs.

In the coldest cut of all, Amazon recently won a deal to supply computer services to the CIA, encroaching on the business of IBM's federal systems division, the bluest of Big Blue business units. Like everyone else, the government is under pressure to try out cloud computing services such as Amazon to reduce cost.

• On a more upbeat note, IBM rolled out its new Power8 chips at the Hot Chips conference this week. Timothy Prickett Morgan covered it for The Register and IT Jungle.

Big iron sales are still generating $6bn to $7bn a year for IBM - which is enough to justify designing its own Power processors and building its own wafer baker.

At the Hot Chips conference at Stanford University on Monday, some of the chief architects behind the Power8 electronics were on hand to show off the feeds and speeds of the next-generation motor for the company's Power Systems lineup.

Significantly, the Power8 chip is also the foundation for Big Blue's OpenPower consortium - an effort to make it easier to hook networking, accelerators and other features into Power processors by allowing third parties to license chunks of intellectual property in the style of ARM Holdings and its RISC cores.

Ibm_power8_die_shotIBM announced the OpenPower effort earlier this month, with GPU maker Nvidia, network chip maker Mellanox Technologies, motherboard maker Tyan, and advertising moneymaker Google all lending their support to the cause.

Whether or not the OpenPower effort gains traction remains to be seen; the Power8 is so clearly engineered for midrange and enterprise systems for running applications on a giant shared memory space, backed by lots of cores and threads. Power8 does not belong in a smartphone unless you want one the size of a shoebox that weighs 20 pounds. But it most certainly does belong in a badass server, and Power8 is by far one of the most elegant chips that Big Blue has ever created, based on the initial specs.

April 23, 2013

Tech columnist on Decline and Fall of IBM

I've pointed out the writings of well-known tech columnist Bob Cringely and his dire (and sometimes accurate) predictions about IBM.

As a long-time tech writer, he seems to have to pretty good grasp of how IBM has changed over the years. He has always been very critical of Big Blue's management, which he sees as creating profits at the expense of their employees instead creating of good technology.

CringleyCringely's latest prediction is that IBM will withdraw its 401K contributions for its employees. They have already made some significant changes in that area, from shifting from making 401k contributions in every paycheck to doing it just once a year.

I wonder what local IBMers think about that. Is it possible? Could that be in the works?

The Decline and Fall of IBM is the headline of Cringely's latest column as well as the title of an e-book that is releasing soon.

Here's an excerpt from the column:

IBM is in trouble, you see, serious trouble caused primarily by executive corrosion from within. Not only did Big Blue miss its earnings target last quarter for the first time in years, if the rumors I am hearing are correct the company’s primary response will be to screw U.S. employees even more than they have already.

The rumor I’ve heard is that IBM, which not long ago changed its 401k contribution policy to push what had been a biweekly payment into an annual one right at the end of the year, may have decided this year (and in the future?) not to make any 401K contribution at all. Since IBM’s U.S. employees can divert up to eight percent of their gross compensation into the 401K and IBM has traditionally made a comparable matching payment, this possible change in compensation policy could save the company close to $1 billion.

In one sense one might ask what’s wrong with that? Companies have to do what they have to do in this economy and workers sometimes suffer. But for IBM it indicates the company is getting near the bottom of its bag of tricks for maintaining earnings growth toward that ambitious 2015 goal of $20 per share. Management seem to be down to three ideas to improve the numbers: 1) savage the 401K plan; 2) sell the low-end server business to Lenovo for a reported $2.5 billion, and; 3) expect a miracle called PureSystems.


 

 

 

April 04, 2013

Plug pulled on IBM's record breaking computer Roadrunner

IBM's record-breaking Roadrunner supercomputer was the fastest computer in the world when introduced five years ago.
But this week, it was retired and soon will be dismantled, surpassed by other machines in the fast-evolving world of supercomputers.
The Roadrunner, which owed much of its hybrid design and manufacture to Big Blue's Rochester campus, was the first machine to break the computer industry's "sound barrier" in 2008 by clocking a petaflop or one quadrillion calculations per second.

Roadrunner_1“We just all looked around and said, ‘We made it,’” stated Peter Keller, who was part of the Rochester manufacturing team that recorded that historic milestone on May 25, 2008.

The plug was pulled on the $121 million supercomputer on Easter Sunday at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

"Roadrunner, while I would not define it as strictly obsolete, it has been surpassed by newer technology," said Kevin Roark, of Los Alamos. "It's perfectly normal. …This is the natural progression."

Roadrunner's duties are being shifted over to Los Alamos' Cielo supercomputer, which is made by Seattle-based Cray Inc. Two years younger than Roadrunner, Roark describes it as faster, smaller, less expensive and more energy-efficient than its IBM predecessor.

Until it was shut down, Roadrunner ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week since being delivered to the laboratory via 25 trucks.

While it now is being experimented on as it waits to be dismantled and shredded, Roadrunner took Los Alamos' work on the United States' nuclear weapons stockpile to a new level.

"It has performed remarkably well. It has really helped us solve some fundamental problems that were essentially unsolvable before a computer of its speed," Roark said.

It wasn't just its speed that made Roadrunner so groundbreaking. The revolutionary hybrid design that coordinated the use of different types of computer chips, including Cell chips originally designed in Rochester to be used in Sony's PlayStation 3 video game system.

"Roadrunner was a truly pioneering idea," said Gary Grider, of Los Alamos' High Performance Computing Division, in a statement. "Roadrunner got everyone thinking in new ways about how to build and use a supercomputer."

Los Alamos teamed up with IBM to build Roadrunner from commercially available parts. They ended up with 278 refrigerator-size racks filled with two different types of processors, all linked together by 55 miles of fiber optic cable.

The supercomputer has been used over the last five years to model viruses and unseen parts of the universe, to better understand lasers and for nuclear weapons work. That includes simulations aimed at ensuring the safety and reliability of the nation's aging arsenal.

Roadrunner was the world's fastest computer for 18 months. At its peak, it was two times faster than Blue Gene/L, which was IBM’s star machine and the fastest computer in the world in 2007.

Its historic speed kept Roadrunner on the Top 500 Fastest Computers list, despite being outdated. It still ranked as 22nd fastest machine in the world in November.

IBM had four of the top 10 fastest computers on that November list, and all had roots in Rochester. Sequoia, a BlueGene/ Q, took the No. 2 spot behind Cray's Titan. Other BlueGenes — Miram JUQUEEN and Fermi — locked up the fourth, fifth and ninth spots.