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July 20, 2010

Delivering HPC to the New Main Street

Nicole Hemsoth

Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Center was in the news last week when it announced its partnership with GIS software firm ESRI. At the end of the announcement was a statement about how RMSC has the goal of bringing HPC to Main Street, which is a goal at a handful of other centers as well but is enjoying particular success in Montana. That issue alone seemed worthy of tackling independently of the news about GIS in the cloud since it marks one of the greatest possibilities for scientific computing we’ve seen in at least a decade — the possibility of a supercomputer for everyone.

Full story at HPC in the Cloud

July 20, 2010

Delivering HPC to the New Main Street

Nicole Hemsoth

Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Center was in the news last week when it announced its partnership with GIS software firm ESRI. At the end of the announcement, which will be discussed in an upcoming feature, was a statement about how RMSC has the goal of bringing HPC to Main Street, which is a goal at a handful of other centers as well but is enjoying particular success in Montana. That issue alone seemed worthy of tackling independently of the news about GIS in the cloud since it marks one of the greatest possibilities for scientific computing we’ve seen in at least a decade–the possibility of a supercomputer for everyone. Imagine that.

The cloud is making it possible to deliver supercomputing resources on-demand and many feel that this is an often overlooked element in any plan to jumpstart economic recovery. While the costs are still not low over the course of time with sustained use if one looks to most public cloud providers, there is an avoidance of the capital expenditure at the startup—a key element of value for many. It is this supercomputing on-demand accessibility that is making Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Centers and others like it organizations to watch, both on a technological level and an economic one.

Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Center is not the only center offering its high-performance compute power to power local business and governments. This is a growing trend, although there are different ways this is delivered that might not fit into what some think of as a cloud—it’s more like rentable HPC. Still, the sharing of large resources is an important topic and is a growing trend among other centers, especially as many have received funds to work to open their infrastructure to the outside world.

Although I reached out to Execute Director of Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Centers, Earl Dodd, to talk about GIS in the cloud at RMSC for the coming feature story, I couldn’t help but ask some of the larger questions that revolve around the mission at Rocky Mountain Supercomputing Center, especially those that are related to the concept of delivering to HPC to users that either didn’t know they needed HPC or didn’t think they could get started as genuine competitors due to a lack of investment in hardware.

I asked Dodd to describe RMSC’s concept of “HPC for the New Main Street” and prompted him to offer some level of detail about who benefits the most and who some of the early adopters of the concept in practice were. The following was Dodd’s detailed response:

Without delving into the realm of politics and the efficacy of the U.S. Government bailouts for banks, AIG, ―Detroit and other large entities, the vast majority of America—the small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) contributing roughly between 65%-75% of the tax base and leading the innovation curve—was missed. RMSC calls these SMEs and their employees and contractors the ―New Main Street.

RMSC’s unique business model, as a public-private partnership for economic development using the HPC Cloud, is laser-focused on this market because it will generate local jobs, high-technology jobs and real growth by creating a competitive and sustainable economy. Currently, the majority of SMEs do not use HPC solutions, nor make extensive use of the Cloud Computing business model. RMSC seeks to change non-consumption into HPC Cloud consumption.

Early adopters include small Montana business, like GCS Research, TerraEchos, Fort Peck Land Owners Association, and soon Montana government agencies like the Montana Natural Heritage Program and Departments of Agriculture, Livestock and Emergency Services, that have data and analytic problems that cannot be solved without supercomputing performance yet unable to afford an outright purchase of such infrastructure. These problems range from wildfire simulation supporting emergency management, security of critical assets and borders, terrestrial and geologic carbon sequestration management and the control of noxious and invasive plant and animal species.

Although the context of our conversation was initially about GIS in the cloud and its spurring of economic activity in addition to advancing the field in general, he did provide a few other points about the power of the HPC cloud for the New Main Street. In his words, a “true HPC cloud” will address the following issues, in order of priority ranked according to the barriers encountered:

• Service Level (begin where the consumer is today and make it simple)
• Support (demystify HPC and hand-hold the consumer through the process)
• Price (make HPC affordable and payable by the click-bit-byte-pixel)
• Access (make HPC accessible and simple to use)
• Security and Assurance (make the new paradigm safe with defined responsibilities)
• Performance (―unleash the beast)

On another economic note, Dodd also noted:

As stated by the Council on Competitiveness, the nation as a whole must strengthen its competitiveness by increasing its ability to innovate. RMSC has taken to task this call to action and sees our relationship with ESRI (advancing GIS, 3D remote visualization, analytics and simulation/modeling) necessary to do the following.

• Have Supercomputing be absolutely essential to business survival
• Democratize Supercomputing and remove it as a computing niche
• Exploit Supercomputing for greater SME competitiveness
• Deliver a Supercomputing business model template to replicate and expand

This is a rousing call to arms, particularly during times of economic crisis. If we begin to see harnessing the power of supercomputing might for those who had previously been denied access, it is reasonable to think that there will be a significant boost to the nation’s economy and the development of scientific inquiry via access to previously off-limits compute horsepower.
 

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