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September 15, 2010

Intel Pilots HPC Workstation Clustering Program

Michael Feldman

According to a recent article in eWeek, Intel is exploring the idea of aggregating local workstations for the purpose of building virtual HPC clusters. The pilot program is being run by silicon design teams inside Intel, according to Shesha Krishnapura, a senior principal engineer in the company’s IT Engineering Group. The idea is to alleviate the need for an on-site datacenter, cluster, and other related infrastructure.

So for the past six months, Intel has been working with the design team on a concept officials are calling CCC, or Cubicle Clustered Computing. Traditionally, engineers use high-end laptops to access back-end blade servers, Krishnapura said. In the CCC pilot, workstations that are configured to the exact specifications as the servers. Those workstations are placed in each cubicle and secured so there can be no physical access.

According to Intel, the concept could make high performance computing more widely available to businesses and other organizations that don’t have the resources and know-how to host HPC clusters. Specifically, the idea is aimed at the so-called missing middle, those users between entry-level HPC and true supercomputing.

Conventional missing middle solutions involve making HPC cluster easier to manage and operate, but lately users are looking to eliminate them altogether. Deskside “supercomputers” (usually equipped with GPGPU gear) and cloud computing are two ways users can forgo the HPC datacenter today, and Intel’s CCC model can be thought of as just another variation of this theme.

The limitation is that data storage still needs centralized, so the model doesn’t entirely eliminated the need for some sort of datacenter somewhere, but the compute is all local in the workstations. The CCC system supports the Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI), so the virtual cluster can be managed remotely.

The pilot project currently involves around 200 Intel engineers over five different sites, and according to the article, the chip maker is trying to figure out how to turn the concept into a commercial solution.

Full story at eWeek