Intel Acquires Whamcloud

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Intel WhamcloudIn its continuing push to expand its sphere of influence in the high performance computing (HPC) space, our partner Intel has acquired Whamcloud, a startup devoted to supporting the open source Lustre parallel file system and its user community.

Whamcloud was launched in July 2010, at a time when the Lustre technology and community were in turmoil. At that point, the Lustre IP, and more importantly, the Lustre brain trust (Peter Braam, Eric Barton, Robert Read, and others) were under the control of Oracle, which had inherited the technology and its principle developers when it acquired Sun Microsystems a year earlier.

Oracle, though, had little interest in the HPC user community, so many became worried that the technology and expertise would be set adrift under its new corporate masters. When former LLNL’er Brent Gorda came along and convinced Barton and Read to launch the Whamcloud venture, that marked the beginning of Lustre’s return to the HPC fold. Gorda became Whamcloud’s founding CEO, with Barton coming in as the CTO and Read filling the Principal Engineer role.

Over the past two years, Whamcloud has become one of the industry’s leading Lustre support vendors and had garnered a number of lucrative government contracts in that regard, including the recently announced exascale R&D project under the DOE. But now, at least some of Lustre’s future will once again depend on the good will of a large corporation.

The revelation of the acquisition was made quietly on Friday afternoon on Whamcloud’s own website http://www.whamcloud.com/news/intel-corporation-has-acquired-whamcloud/. So quietly in fact that Intel has not issued a press release on the deal, and is not offering much in the way of specifics, include the price it paid for the company. One can surmise it was not a huge amount (i.e., it was not a material acquisition), inasmuch as the deal did not have to go through government regulatory agencies for approval and no SEC filing was made.

Exactly what Intel plans to do with Whamcloud is not entirely clear at this point, except that it will “serve to ‘augment’ its silicon portfolio with Lustre file system services.” Intel spokesman Jon Carvill has stated that the company views distributed parallel file systems as critical as a foundation for the next-generation of data centers that will support cloud computing and HPC. As such, this move makes sense in its continuing push in the realms of high-speed networking, heterogenous computing, and embedded systems with products such as Infiniband, Intel Mic, the Crystal Forest platform.

…Intel’s HPC spending spree will likely continue for awhile, since the chipmaker is still lacking technology expertise in areas like HPC system software, cluster management tools, and even HPC system and storage hardware, if it’s interested in playing that game.

Beyond Intel’s exascale aspirations, Snell thinks the company is interested bringing more system functionality on-chip. “We’ve seen the beginnings of this with features like Integrated I/O,” he explained.” The acquisition of Whamcloud could offer Intel key knowledge in integrating Lustre or other parallel file system optimization into the on-chip I/O channel.”

That could eventually lead to markets beyond HPC, in particular, the enterprise storage arena and the burgeoning big data application space. And since those are higher volume markets than supercomputing, Intel would certainly be interested in any leverage it could achieve there.

In the meantime, predictions are that Whamcloud will continue to offer “business as usual” for its customers. We’ll have to wait and see what Intel chooses to do with the company, and what role it will play in its comprehensive HPC strategy.

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