Worcester, MA — Blackstone Technology Group, a new company focused on compute farms, asks this question: “What if all your computers could be connected together to act as one massive computing source that supplies more power per desktop than ever before, while also prioritizing workloads across departments?” How this question is answered at innovation-driven firms around the world will largely determine whether success is achieved in today’s ultra-competitive Internet-driven economy. Blackstone Technology Group envisions that its “Compute Farm” approach to computing can provide the desperately sought after compute power required for engineering success in the 21st century.
A compute farm is a pool of networked computers that are turbo-charged into a single source of massive compute power. Compute farms are created by applying enabling technology and enabling knowledge to achieve mainframe “Big Iron” benefits at a fraction of the cost. They provide scalable and uninterrupted compute power for executing jobs that are long-running as well as CPU and memory intensive. Unlike server farms used in e-commerce and web-hosting applications, which process a huge number of relatively short transactions, compute farms efficiently execute a smaller number of large jobs that run for extended time periods.
“Compute farms will be the computing platform for engineers in the 21st century,” says Blackstone president, Ron Ranauro. “Technical computing jobs can take hours, even days, to process. A compute farm takes a sequence of 20 one-hour jobs, for example, and, rather than running it on one CPU for 20 hours, spreads it over ten computers to complete the project in two hours. It does this using a good percentage of resources that would otherwise remain idle.” Ranauro adds, “Compute farms unleash an organization’s full computing potential. It is `all CPUs, all the time.'”
Why the New Computing Platform?
As chips increase in complexity, organizations set out to map the human genetic code, and software programs require testing on millions of lines of code, the sophisticated applications that make these developments possible are requiring massive amounts of compute power.
Historically, mainframes and supercomputers doled out this resource to engineers based on job priority. Later, organizations moved to the more scalable distributed computing environment with a big workstation on every desktop. However, big on the desktop is never big enough. Pressured to meet deadlines, engineers turn to colleagues’ computers with makeshift software for siphoning additional resources. A sort of compute power black-market ensues. As friction rises within the very groups that are enabling the frictionless economy, the need for an entirely new computing platform becomes ever more apparent.
Just as for the Internet a centralized web of computers now forms the basis for information access today, a similar pattern is beginning to take hold in technical computing. Like the way server farms act as a centralized hub for powering e-commerce, compute farms centralize a technical computing environment – without sacrificing the autonomy afforded by the desktop. Thus, engineers remain in control of their own design stations and project schedules. With access to more power, they usually find their work returned much faster than before.
Compute farms offer the best of both worlds: the autonomy and scalability of decentralized computing, with the administrative prowess of the mainframe. And unlike historical mainframe-based centralized computing, if any CPU fails, the whole system does not shut down.
“Sun is the leader in developing the concept of compute farms and pioneered the use of network-based farms to achieve significant leaps in productivity,” said Peter Denyer, EDA segment manager at Sun Microsystems. “The underlying complexity of the compute farm is hidden from the engineer who is freed to concentrate on design issues. With their unique ability to equip companies with a well-designed compute farm in short order, Blackstone is at the cusp of an exciting business opportunity.”
Blackstone estimates that the current market for compute farms, which roughly equals the replacement market for engineering workstations and departmental servers, is in excess of $1 billion in North America alone. Providing insight into this market, Ranauro explains, “the average computing budget for a two year old start-up electronics company is about $1 million annually. For established firms and departments of large companies, this budget hovers in the $5-10 million range. The New England market alone, which may comprise 10% of the North American electronics market for compute farms, is around $100 million.”
Industry leaders are already taking the plunge, and reaping the rewards. Companies like Celera Genomics, Chrysalis Symbolic Designs, Compaq Computer Corporation, IronBridge Networks, Lucent Technologies, Sun Microsystems, and Tundra Semiconductor have all incorporated compute farms in their engineering enterprises.
Compute Farm Enabling Technology and Knowledge
Scheduling software, called “load sharing,” is the enabling technology of a compute farm. Load sharing software keeps track of when demands rise and fall, and then prioritizes and schedules jobs accordingly. When demand subsides, during nights and weekends, low priority jobs that are queued will automatically be run, making more power available for the bursts in demand that occur often every day, and the peaks that strike at the ends of product cycles.
Compute farms also require enabling knowledge. To build a true compute farm, a comprehensive approach is needed that harmonizes diverse disciplines: industry-specific application knowledge, load sharing, product design data management, as well as system and network administration.
Blackstone Technology Group is an offshoot of the electronics design automation (EDA) consultancy, Blackstone-EDA. The eleven-person company, with a larger crew of independent consultants, began developing compute farms within the EDA industry using Platform Computing’s popular LSF (Load Sharing Facility) software. With established success in EDA and recognizing the absence of focused players, most supply only pieces of the solution, the company is setting out to become the premier compute farm provider.
The company works with many of the industry’s heaviest hitters, including Compaq Computer, Sun Microsystems, and Veritas Software. Platform Computing continues to supply the critical LSF component.
Blackstone delivers its expertise, proprietary monitoring software, and its systematic approach to designing and building compute farms in a new offering called ComputeFarm Advantage, which is also being announced today.