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June 5, 2010

Grid to Cloud to HPC as a Service: Commentary on New Directions

Nicole Hemsoth

Over the next few years, we will be hearing far more about HPC as a Service (insert messy acronym here) which will be bringing high-performance computing to a far wider class of users—and thus we usher in the age of HPC for the masses.

Despite all of the discussions about the narrow difference (in the minds of some, at least) between grid and cloud, it is in this grand vision of “HPC for the Masses” that the critical division between grid and cloud is most important. That line in the sand relies on the web interface to create ease of use and, of course, the pay-per-use model that allows for great compute capacity with the swipe of a credit card. 

When asked to define the key division between grid and cloud and what this means for both the HPC community and end users of all sizes and needs, Peter ffoulkes from Adaptive Computing provided the following answer in practical context—and it is this positioning in the real-world context that is of key importance here.

This conversation was particularly useful in the greater context of being present at ISC where the very definition of cloud was being discussed at the same time of the release of the Top 500, which are in essence very big compute resources for very specialized centers. In other words, this was compute bang for the reputation buck.

For the first time since the humble beginning of supercomputing decades ago, there is finally a chance for HPC to become broadly accessible and useful outside of academia and high-end research center use. The simple addition of the web interface and loss of the cost of ownership in exchange for a pay-per-use model means that HPC is finally realizing its original mission—to prove useful outside of the confines of its own space; to become the enabler of progress for everyone else.

This is the new movement in HPC—not because so many members of the traditional HPC community who evaluate the Top 500 list for a sense of new directions are going to experience great benefit, but because finally the real application of HPC for the advancement that become useful to everyone is on the way.

Is it here yet? No. Not in full force. But as we’ll continue covering here, there are canaries dropping left and right in this coal mine.