Q&A: P&G Exec Sees Disconnect on High-Performance Systems

Lange says IT needs to grasp technology's value and lobby for it

SEATTLE -- Procter & Gamble relies heavily on supercomputing systems in designing and testing its products. But Thomas Lange, director of modeling and simulation for corporate R&D at the consumer products maker, thinks that many potential corporate users still see supercomputing systems as an esoteric technology that's years away from being relevant to mainstream business applications. Not so, he argued in an interview with Computerworld last week.

Thomas Lange of Procter & Gamble

Thomas Lange of Procter & Gamble

Image Credit: Patrick Thibodeau

Is there a lack of understanding about supercomputing, or a disconnect in explaining it to potential users? Yes. The people in the field talk about it in too complex of a way. I think the mistake with high-performance computing people is they will talk about their specs -- they'll use all this complicated jargon. That's a big barrier, because the world is not made up of a bunch of computer scientists.

What role can CIOs and other IT managers play in introducing supercomputing at their companies? Two things. First, they can be an advocate from the top down within the organization. They can create an environment that is supportive for the opportunity to get developed. It isn't just the CIO, by the way; it's also the CTO. Second, they can challenge their organization by saying, "We have to innovate how we are innovating."

What are the risks that you see for companies that don't move into high-performance computing? Someone else will out-innovate you, and it may come from below or above.

But what kind of problems do you have to solve to bring supercomputing into an organization? Development is a zero-sum game, so every dollar you're going to spend on computing -- and on the software, hardware and people to do it -- is a dollar you aren't going to spend on some other part of development activity you already do today. So the challenge is, you have to sell the belief that "I'm going to be able to do this virtually faster and better than I'm doing it today." Automotive did it. They took cars off the test track and started doing virtual work.

A lot of big companies use custom software on their high-performance systems. But if you're a midsize company, you may want a plug-and-play system with commercial software. How do you accomplish that? I have very little custom code. We made it a conscious choice -- stick with commercial [programs].

Do the commercial products scale to the number of processors you need? They don't always. And when they don't, we get real upset and spend a lot of time talking to our software vendors. We have a willingness to go to another vendor. There's a marketplace for codes.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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