Why EMC Wants to Build a High Performance Data Center in Holyoke

6/23/09Follow @bbuderi

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rely heavily on virtualization, in which one computer simulates the action of many, or many computers simulate the action of one massive machine. “We really can create much greater efficiencies in the utilization of resources, because you can run multiple virtual machines on the same physical machine, and therefore drive up utilization dramatically without any sacrifice in performance,” he says. Cloud computing refers to allowing customers to tap the center’s computing power or storage capacity as needed—sharing data in some cases and keeping it private in others, but all within the confines of the center’s systems, not their own. “[It's] really enabling a multi-tenant environment where different companies, different customers, different universities maintain their own private, secure environment for their data and their resources, and also enable multi-party collaboration,” Nick says.

Finding better ways to support this kind of operation and collaboration is a top priority for companies like EMC, VMware, RSA (EMC’s security division), Cisco (the other corporate partner on this project), and others, Nick says.

This is where the R&D aspect of the plan really comes in. The center would be a “friendly test bed” to pursue advanced research and incubate new technologies, improve them, and then “bring them into the marketplace,” Nick says. The university partners are key to this, he explains, because university researchers are often early adopters of new technology. “If we create this environment where they get to play with these toys and give us feedback and then begin to build out additional capability on top of the technology that we supply them, which is what researchers do, then we’re able to accelerate the innovation curve.”

The third of Nick’s “dimensions of opportunity” has to do with the longer-term fruits of the research collaborations enabled by the center as they advance applications in a wide variety of industries. This is the most open-ended of the elements to EMC’s strategy, because it essentially says that good but unpredictable things will ultimately come out of a center that brings together researchers in the life sciences, climate modeling, health care, renewable energy, finance, and other fields. “This is really a great opportunity to allow the researchers from different universities to kind of work side by side,” says Nick. “It really creates a rich Petri dish, if you will, from which new ideas and new discoveries form.”

I asked Nick whether this meant that researchers would be physically present in the HPCC. “I don’t know,” he says, pointing out the center is still in the planning stages and such issues aren’t resolved. “But I don’t really think it matters, as long as the researchers have access to the information and the IT resources.”

A lot of other issues are also still up in the air during this planning phase, and so only time will tell how well EMC’s vision matches reality. But whether it involves a physical presence or not, a research melting pot that tests and hopefully helps pioneer new computing systems, techniques, and architectures even as it helps the bottom line is very difficult for any single corporation to create these days. If you have partners to help bear the cost and risk, and if other partners help you test your technologies while doing their jobs, you might just do what Nick intends to do—pick up the pace of innovation.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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