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September 29, 2010

HPC-as-a-Service Gaining Traction in Enterprise Arena

Pankaj Mittal

Competitive business complexities and increasingly demanding users are driving organizations to design better performing products and solutions. Commercial applications often have adequate compute power, but require access to High-Performance Computing (HPC) capabilities that can increase efficiency, improve response times, enhance decision-making and help manage increasing data complexities.

Companies know that they need an HPC solution if they have data analysis if there are certain criteria, including needs exceeding hundreds of GB/TB/PBs; possession of “secret sauce-processes” that need to run faster; repetitive/sequential execution bottlenecks; applications that underutilize computing power; complex computing requirements; batch driven analysis of large data; are facing the near failure of the RDBMS (or expectation of failure in the future); and face the challenge of huge  unstructured data analysis.

A number of organizations are deploying High Performance Computing (HPC) solutions to deal with data complexities and the challenges of today’s environments.

HPC On-Demand Moving Enterprises Forward

High Performance Computing as a trend has gained momentum over the past two years, owing to different factors. Key among such trends is the fact that costly supercomputers are no longer required to undertake high-end data analytics and voluminous number crunching tasks. These can now be performed by clusters of competitively priced servers, comprised of what is basically commodity hardware, all of which is networked to provide the same computing power as that of the extremely advanced supercomputers.

The second development is the dawning of the cloud era, which is eliminating the need for organizations and individuals to invest in expensive IT infrastructure to access and run applications.
 
High Performance Computing, based on these two key trends, is now within the reach of companies and therefore gradually pervading the enterprise space. HPC, in fact, is being coupled with the cloud to provide unmatched benefits to organizations.

In order to understand the nexus between HPC and the Cloud, and how HPC can be delivered “as-a-service,” it is pertinent to understand the finer points of both technology trends. HPC, as we have all come to know, is large scale computation and data processing. It is about large data and provides the benefits of scale, and incremental growth to organizations. It enables them to cut costs and flexibly leverage technology as their requirements increase or decrease.

The fact is that data accumulation rates are growing astronomically and managing data in traditional ways is getting difficult in the same proportion. HPC is emerging as a champion for large-scale data management needs.  It is required by businesses that rely on high powered analytics to provide data driven insights, companies that need more than simple reports and dashboards.

And now the cloud. Cloud computing is being described as a next generation paradigm that is transforming IT usage. With the cloud, and availability of cloud service providers, organizations no longer have to invest in additional technology infrastructure. They can leverage the infrastructure provided by the cloud service provider, or move their own applications to this infrastructure. Customers derive enormous economies of use by leveraging the pay-by-use model, instead of upgrading their infrastructure, to provision for peaks in data volumes.

Typically, when there are situations where there is need for huge IT infrastructure to deal with voluminous data, say “on-and-off workloads” including holiday rush during the web sites of retail companies, etc., Cloud infrastructure is very useful. These instances may happen once or twice in a year and the Cloud is the perfect alternative to heavy IT investments that will remain underutilized all year around. The Cloud can handle the peak load at the specific time required. It can scale on demand when needed and the customer only needs to pay for the time used.

HPC and the Cloud: a Win-Win Combination

Combined together, HPC and the cloud offer several advantages to customers. While HPC, with its ability to handle huge volumes of data can solve large data problems more efficiently and speedily, the cloud can scale on-demand and enable users to pay by the drink.

HPC works by doing things in parallel, or via distributing computing. The speed of the solution depends on the availability of computing resources. The cloud offers HPC the kind of computing resources and infrastructure it requires.  When HPC requires more computing resources, the cloud, with its on-demand scaling, meets this need.

By leveraging the cloud, organizations can run their compute-intensive applications, that would typically require extensive on-premise technology, on the cloud, in an extremely cost-effective fashion. It is ideal for HPC applications to run on cloud infrastructure, which is constituted by massive data centers with high-end servers, storage, data recovery facilities, 24×7 availability, zero downtime and disaster management features. HPC-as-a-service, represents an unmatched combination, specially for companies with huge data computing and scalability needs.

More specifically speaking, HPC and cloud customers can handle large data on an “on-demand” basis and undertake deep analytics. However, most importantly, owing to the analytics, assessments and reporting available with HPC, companies can mine information on their customers, know them better and become more responsive to their needs. Using geo-location based customer targeting and intelligent recommendation engines, the relevant products can be aimed at the relevant customers.

Despite the fact that HPC-as-a-service is a growing reality, there are still certain issues that need to be ironed out, before the partnership between HPC and the cloud becomes perfect. Since both the technologies are in a nascent stage, organizations have to focus on overcoming challenges related to installation (which is not easy), networking set up, control and monitoring, which require further refinement. It has to be recognized that HPC requires large IT infrastructure that can scale, which is a costly proposition. In order to work with HPC, companies require specialized manpower  and developers, which is yet another expense.

While there are myriad advantages to marrying HPC and the cloud, there is also a fine print that needs to  be looked into. For instance, it is important for companies to conduct a use case for establishing the feasibility of offering HPC-as-a-service for their needs.  Proof-of-concepts are not always enough or accurate.  At the same time, organizations must evaluate the impact of the solution on their total cost of ownership. It is also important to examine the total costs involved in uploading the data on the cloud, which is still very high.

Companies must understand that HPC in the cloud is not a silver bullet that they can bite to speed up processing. Finally, size does matter, and if the data input is too large, there will be a significant cost involved in actually loading the data.

A number of companies have been building expertise in HPC as well as cloud services, creating thought leadership within these domains through pools of subject matter experts in both these emerging technologies. Impetus Technologies, for instance, has built expertise in areas such as Very Large Data Processing, Multi-core, Parallel, Distributed Computing, Hadoop, Programmable hardware, and the HPC 360 degree solution.

Clearly, the time is ripe for the proliferation of HPC-as-a-service. The coming together of two extremely revolutionary technologies—HPC and the cloud—will completely transform the manner in which IT power is delivered to organizations. This change is already happening, and is expected to accelerate in the future.

About the Author

 

Pankaj Mittal is responsible for all new product and IP initiatives at Impetus, taking them from ideation to market commercialization. He supports business growth by managing client expectations from the technology and delivery perspective.

An Impetus veteran and a member of the core management team, Pankaj has been instrumental in enabling the company to grow to over 1000 employees, managing multiple projects, and providing direction to R&D efforts, in order to build innovative software tools and components. He has played a key role in developing the organization’s intellectual property strategy and applying it to create asymmetric differentiators that add significant value to Impetus’ products and client deliverables.