I spent the better part of ten years following the High Performance Computing (otherwise known as "HPC") industry. This industry became one of the most hyped sectors of the computer biz in the mid-eighties. How many of you remember minisupercomputers, MPPs and visualization? Not too many, I'll bet. HPC fell off the press' radar screen in the early nineties. Most of the companies purporting to be in the biz died without fanfare, some amid talk of securities scams; the few survivors were mainly either swallowed by a goliath (e.g., HP's takeover of Convex) or struggled to maintain a dark-colored bottom line. But let me tell you folks, like Zero Mostel and Phil Silvers, funny things happened (to HPC) on its way to the mid- nineties. HPC discovered commercial computing (as opposed to technical computing where HPC was established), and the segment of commercial computing that could most benefit from HPC technologies was discovered to be no less than data warehousing/decision support! All the stuff the HPC guys were really good at--scaling, big data management, analysis, graphics, etc., are just what the doctor orders for decision support, especially where lots of data is involved.
I recall that nearly 10 years ago Fermi Labs was doing data mining on a 200 terabyte database! I haven't checked lately, but it's bound to be a lot bigger today. And how about the EOS (Earth Orbiting Satellite)? NASA's original plan called for accumulating and analyzing data being gathered at a rate of more than 10GB of new data PER DAY! A five terabyte database, which is normally considered "huge" in the commercial space, makes these guys yawn.
The most prominent survivor of the HPC carnage is Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI), now also the parent of Cray Research, the only progenitor of the supercomputer business except IBM that remains in business. Although SGI's profile in the data warehousing/DSS space has been pretty feeble over the last few years, that is in the process of changing--and changing rapidly. SGI has a new CEO who has declared that "Strategic Business Analysis" will be henceforth and forevermore one of SGI's three primary strategic thrusts. This ought to be very interesting to readers of this magazine. Having the leading visualization, number-crunching and data management system technologies pointed in your direction from a single vendor ought to lie somewhere between provocative and compelling!
But SGI says it will not be content with just offering superior system firepower. The company plans to be big in the decision support software business as well. At present, its flagship DSS software product is MineSet, a data mining tool that at least one guru says has the #1 market share with more than 5000 licenses outstanding. (No foolin'!) SGI promises more such tools in the future, all of which will run not only on UNIX, but also on Windows NT which should greatly improve the company's chances of increasing market acceptance.
If you haven't seen MineSet, you should take a look. The program's twist is that it lets you do the data mining by looking at a wide range of graphical displays that encourage your eyes to see the patterns that emerge. Scientists have been using these techniques for years; but for those of you for whom sophisticated graphics is a three-dimensional bar chart, this stuff will blow you away.
SGI's challenge will be to convince you folks out there in the retail, distribution and other traditional business computing-oriented industries that it is worthy of consideration. It plans to do this by forming partnerships with solutions companies who will become so enamored with its systems and software that they can't help but recommend SGI as best of breed. Course, everyone else in the business is trying to do the same thing, so making its presence not only known to but respected by its potential partners and customers has to be SGI's first priority.
However, the company has a leg up by virtue of its present customer base, which consists mainly of government agencies, universities and corporate R&D labs. Those folks are the "early adopters" of the technologies that later become mainstream. If SGI can successfully leverage the combination of technology and customers that it presently has, it could become an important player in the decision support business in a relatively short span of time. I think the company understands the challenge. The new CEO has moved decision support to the front burner. Old management is out, new management is in. We will all know how successful these moves have been before long. So as I am wont to say, stay tuned...
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