What I Learned at NGDC: Technology is Ready, Users are Not

By Derrick Harris

August 13, 2007

If I had to boil what I observed at last week’s Next Generation Data Center conference into one thought, it would be this: Although technologies to virtualize, optimize and automate datacenters do exist and are mature, organizations are still leery about making the transformation, despite coveting the associated improvements in performance, flexibility and overall efficiency.

As evidence that these technologies are mature, one really need look no further than the event’s opening keynotes, in which Amazon CTO Werner Vogels and eBay distinguished research scientist Paul Strong discussed the Web-scale datacenters being operated by their respective employers. Strong, for his part, delved a little deeper into the nitty gritty details (see here and here for more on this), all the while, however, stressing the importance of building a datacenter that: (1) runs processes driven by SLAs; (2) operates as a value center rather than a cost center; and (3) enables the rolling out of new utilities, platforms, etc. To achieve this next-generation datacenter, he said, many technologies can and should be considered, including (but certainly not limited to) grid computing, utility computing, real-time solutions and virtualization.

Now, it’s unlikely that most organizations have the resources (or the need — said Strong, “If we don’t keep up, our business is gone.”) to develop and/or manage a datacenter like eBay’s — a highly automated and virtualized environment consisting of several thousand blades servers — but that doesn’t mean companies with less demand on their infrastructures can’t learn some lessons from the online auction leader. For starters, said Strong, automation is the key to efficiency and, in point he made sure to drive home, it is important to “manage relationships, not things.” This advice should be particularly relevant as today’s average datacenters continue to evolve toward advanced models like that of eBay. After all, when you’re staring down thousands of physical machines (and likely significantly more virtual ones) you can’t possibly expect to manage each one individually.

As for Vogels, whose presentation kicked off the doubleheader, he targeted his comments toward those companies who aren’t too keen on managing their own resources, and he used the opportunity to push Amazon’s stable of Web services. For most companies, he estimates, 70 percent of time and money expenditures go toward “heavy lifting” operations like maintenance, load balancing or software management, among others, none of which offer much in terms of innovation or helping differentiate your company from competitors. Unless you’re in an industry where having a customized, highly efficient datacenter directly translates into dollars, he suggested, it might be a waste of resources on all levels. “At [Amazon’s] scale, datacenters matter,” he stated. “They don’t for everyone.”

Following his statement that “I hate datacenters,” Vogels cited the recent power outage at a popular San Francisco datacenter — which led to temporary shutdowns of several Web 2.0 leaders, including Craigslist, Second Life and Netflix — as one example of what can go wrong. Power-wise, he added, even if you have generators to ensure you keep running, you still need batteries to handle the gap in time between the power going out and the generators kicking in. Still in the realm of possible physical issues, Vogels noted that datacenter managers still need to worry about issues such as sufficient cooling and how to handle a fire or other disasters. And that’s not even addressing business-side concerns, such as whether one datacenter is enough, or how you’re going to push out enough bandwidth to handle demand. Often times, he said, companies need to overprovision to handle peak loads or in case they become successful.

His solution? Utilize services such as Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), as well its other Web services offerings, to handle your computing needs, paying only for what you actually use. Vogels talked about this notion as the “push versus pull” model of resource management, where “pushing” refers to the old-style method of preemptively pushing resources toward problems and “pulling” refers to the more progressive concept of pulling in resources from a centralized pool as needed — just like Amazon itself does. For organizations that don’t necessarily benefit from managing their own datacenters, he said, this utility model will allow them to get the computing resources they need elsewhere, thus freeing up time and money to spend on innovation.

However, while Vogels’ solution to datacenter woes might sound logical and easy enough to incorporate, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for this idea to gain mainstream acceptance, much less adoption. Why, you ask? Because organizations are having a difficult enough time taking advantage of next-generation tools within their own walls — something far less scary than the notion of relying on someone else to make sure their applications get the attention they deserve. This was made abundantly clear during a presentation by OGF President Mark Linesch, who was simply trying to lay out the business case for and current status of grid computing technologies.

During Linesch’s presentation, an audience member (who actually has some firsthand grid experience under his belt) asked how he is supposed to sell the idea of grid or virtualization to his applications developers, some of whom still oppose running their applications on distributed or virtualized platforms. (In fact, this gentleman just denied a request for 60-plus servers to develop and test a new application, instead preferring the work to be done on existing, virtually partitioned machines.) Linesch, backed up by Ravi Subramaniam, who has plenty of insight to offer after years of managing Intel’s in-house grid, gave really the only answer one can give in this situation, regardless of how frustrating it might be to someone desperately seeking a cost-efficient, dynamic IT platform for his/her organization: You have to start slow, showing success in one area at a time — perhaps with just one application — and illustrate how that translates into other areas. Not exactly the best way to show off a technology’s full range of capabilities, but not exactly uncommon, either.

This point was hammered home when I sat down to speak with Jay Fry and Ken Oestreich of Cassatt, vice president of marketing and director of product management and marketing, respectively. With its capabilities in areas like capacity on-demand, application virtualization, service level automation, utility metering, etc., Cassatt’s Collage software certainly falls under the “next-generation” umbrella, but customers aren’t always ready to experience it in full force from the get-go. In fact, customers have been known to ask for a pared down version of Collage, something Cassatt might have to do in order to show them — one step at a time — that its software is for real.

I was happy to hear, though, that Cassatt is making inroads on another front: the battle to ease customers’ minds about the cultural and organization changes that come along with the technical changes of a shared IT platform. Gone are the siloed applications and their siloed personnel. Gone are the days of server hugging. Gone are the days of low utilization and high overhead. While these all sound like great things, that kind of change apparently can be quite foreboding for IT departments, which is why many are hesitant to cross over into the promised land. Well, Cassatt and consultancy partner BearingPoint have been walking customers through this process, which they believe needs to be done in parallel, in their New York-based customer experience center, and the reaction has been very positive thus far. You can read more about the Cassatt/BearingPoint partnership here, and you can expect to see more about Cassatt’s take on utility computing in the weeks to come.

Speaking of application virtualization and its associated functionalities, the topic came up in a panel discussion featuring three distinct virtualization users and, wouldn’t you know, it seems to be a little much for them at this point. When the topic of “virtualization 2.0” was brought up, which was defined as including the grid-like abilities (e.g., high availability, SLA management, scalability, etc.) often associated with application virtualization solutions, the response was not overly positive. While Brian Harris, president and founder of Virtual Ngenuity, stated that he believes these functionalities are currently driving business decisions, two of his fellow panelists showed that this might not be entirely the case. Richard Robinson, chief operations officer for Department of Telecommunications and Information Services, City and County of San Francisco, commented that while his department is working toward these goals, they are not there yet and might not be for quite a while. After all, he noted, the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” axiom carries a lot of weight in the local government sector. Sudip Chahal, a senior architect in Intel’s IT Strategy, Architecture and Innovation organization, espoused his belief that this type of architecture isn’t well-suited for traditional business applications — a view not shared by audience member Dave Pearson of Oracle or, I would assume, most of the distributed IT community.

Of course, there was more going on at LinuxWorld/NGDC than just vendors showing off to and discussing with skeptical end-users their cutting-edge technologies. For example, some cool news also came out of the show, such as Appistry adding power-saving functionality to its Enterprise Application Fabric; ServePath announcing high-performance hosting via its virtualized GoGrid service; EnterpriseDB challenging Oracle with GridSQL; and IBM tackling your mountains of widely dispersed data with its grid- and virtualization-powered Information Server Blade, which Big Blue says has demonstrated significant improvements in batch process performance, hardware price performance and budget expenditure. If you’re still hungry for more after reading these announcements, don’t fret, as we’ll have more on all of them — as well as a look at the growing grid hosting business — in the weeks and months to come.

Outside of NGDC news, be sure to check these very noteworthy items: “GigaSpaces Powers Sun’s Market Data Solution”; “NCAR Adds Resources to TeraGrid”; “Imense Using Grid to Become ‘Google of Image Searching’”; “Trigence Intros Optimized App Virtualization Software”; “Sun Releases Fastest Commodity Microprocessor”; and “Layered Tech Announces Super Grid.”

—–

Comments about GRIDtoday are welcomed and encouraged. Write to me, Derrick Harris, at [email protected].

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Mira Supercomputer Enables Cancer Research Breakthrough

November 11, 2019

Dynamic partial-wave spectroscopic (PWS) microscopy allows researchers to observe intracellular structures as small as 20 nanometers – smaller than those visible by optical microscopes – in three dimensions at a mill Read more…

By Staff report

IBM Adds Support for Ion Trap Quantum Technology to Qiskit

November 11, 2019

After years of percolating in the shadow of quantum computing research based on superconducting semiconductors – think IBM, Rigetti, Google, and D-Wave (quantum annealing) – ion trap technology is edging into the QC Read more…

By John Russell

Tackling HPC’s Memory and I/O Bottlenecks with On-Node, Non-Volatile RAM

November 8, 2019

On-node, non-volatile memory (NVRAM) is a game-changing technology that can remove many I/O and memory bottlenecks and provide a key enabler for exascale. That’s the conclusion drawn by the scientists and researcher Read more…

By Jan Rowell

What’s New in HPC Research: Cosmic Magnetism, Cryptanalysis, Car Navigation & More

November 8, 2019

In this bimonthly feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Machine Learning Fuels a Booming HPC Market

November 7, 2019

Enterprise infrastructure investments for training machine learning models have grown more than 50 percent annually over the past two years, and are expected to shortly surpass $10 billion, according to a new market fore Read more…

By George Leopold

AWS Solution Channel

Making High Performance Computing Affordable and Accessible for Small and Medium Businesses with HPC on AWS

High performance computing (HPC) brings a powerful set of tools to a broad range of industries, helping to drive innovation and boost revenue in finance, genomics, oil and gas extraction, and other fields. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Atom by Atom, Supercomputers Shed Light on Alloys

November 7, 2019

Alloys are at the heart of human civilization, but developing alloys in the Information Age is much different than it was in the Bronze Age. Trial-by-error smelting has given way to the use of high-performance computing Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

IBM Adds Support for Ion Trap Quantum Technology to Qiskit

November 11, 2019

After years of percolating in the shadow of quantum computing research based on superconducting semiconductors – think IBM, Rigetti, Google, and D-Wave (quant Read more…

By John Russell

Tackling HPC’s Memory and I/O Bottlenecks with On-Node, Non-Volatile RAM

November 8, 2019

On-node, non-volatile memory (NVRAM) is a game-changing technology that can remove many I/O and memory bottlenecks and provide a key enabler for exascale. Th Read more…

By Jan Rowell

MLPerf Releases First Inference Benchmark Results; Nvidia Touts its Showing

November 6, 2019

MLPerf.org, the young AI-benchmarking consortium, today issued the first round of results for its inference test suite. Among organizations with submissions wer Read more…

By John Russell

Azure Cloud First with AMD Epyc Rome Processors

November 6, 2019

At Ignite 2019 this week, Microsoft's Azure cloud team and AMD announced an expansion of their partnership that began in 2017 when Azure debuted Epyc-backed ins Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Launches Credit Card-Sized 21 TOPS Jetson System for Edge Devices

November 6, 2019

Nvidia has launched a new addition to its Jetson product line: a credit card-sized (70x45mm) form factor delivering up to 21 trillion operations/second (TOPS) o Read more…

By Doug Black

In Memoriam: Steve Tuecke, Globus Co-founder

November 4, 2019

HPCwire is deeply saddened to report that Steve Tuecke, longtime scientist at Argonne National Lab and University of Chicago, has passed away at age 52. Tuecke Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Spending Spree: Hyperscalers Bought $57B of IT in 2018, $10B+ by Google – But Is Cloud on Horizon?

October 31, 2019

Hyperscalers are the masters of the IT universe, gravitational centers of increasing pull in the emerging age of data-driven compute and AI.  In the high-stake Read more…

By Doug Black

Cray Debuts ClusterStor E1000 Finishing Remake of Portfolio for ‘Exascale Era’

October 30, 2019

Cray, now owned by HPE, today introduced the ClusterStor E1000 storage platform, which leverages Cray software and mixes hard disk drives (HDD) and flash memory Read more…

By John Russell

Supercomputer-Powered AI Tackles a Key Fusion Energy Challenge

August 7, 2019

Fusion energy is the Holy Grail of the energy world: low-radioactivity, low-waste, zero-carbon, high-output nuclear power that can run on hydrogen or lithium. T Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Using AI to Solve One of the Most Prevailing Problems in CFD

October 17, 2019

How can artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing (HPC) solve mesh generation, one of the most commonly referenced problems in computational engineering? A new study has set out to answer this question and create an industry-first AI-mesh application... Read more…

By James Sharpe

Cray Wins NNSA-Livermore ‘El Capitan’ Exascale Contract

August 13, 2019

Cray has won the bid to build the first exascale supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laborator Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Looks to Propel Parallelism

September 4, 2019

As Moore’s law runs out of steam, new programming approaches are being pursued with the goal of greater hardware performance with less coding. The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency is launching a new programming effort aimed at leveraging the benefits of massive distributed parallelism with less sweat. Read more…

By George Leopold

AMD Launches Epyc Rome, First 7nm CPU

August 8, 2019

From a gala event at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco yesterday (Aug. 7), AMD launched its second-generation Epyc Rome x86 chips, based on its 7nm proce Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

D-Wave’s Path to 5000 Qubits; Google’s Quantum Supremacy Claim

September 24, 2019

On the heels of IBM’s quantum news last week come two more quantum items. D-Wave Systems today announced the name of its forthcoming 5000-qubit system, Advantage (yes the name choice isn’t serendipity), at its user conference being held this week in Newport, RI. Read more…

By John Russell

Ayar Labs to Demo Photonics Chiplet in FPGA Package at Hot Chips

August 19, 2019

Silicon startup Ayar Labs continues to gain momentum with its DARPA-backed optical chiplet technology that puts advanced electronics and optics on the same chip Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Crystal Ball Gazing: IBM’s Vision for the Future of Computing

October 14, 2019

Dario Gil, IBM’s relatively new director of research, painted a intriguing portrait of the future of computing along with a rough idea of how IBM thinks we’ Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

ISC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
GOOGLE
GOOGLE
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL

Intel Confirms Retreat on Omni-Path

August 1, 2019

Intel Corp.’s plans to make a big splash in the network fabric market for linking HPC and other workloads has apparently belly-flopped. The chipmaker confirmed to us the outlines of an earlier report by the website CRN that it has jettisoned plans for a second-generation version of its Omni-Path interconnect... Read more…

By Staff report

Kubernetes, Containers and HPC

September 19, 2019

Software containers and Kubernetes are important tools for building, deploying, running and managing modern enterprise applications at scale and delivering enterprise software faster and more reliably to the end user — while using resources more efficiently and reducing costs. Read more…

By Daniel Gruber, Burak Yenier and Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud

Dell Ramps Up HPC Testing of AMD Rome Processors

October 21, 2019

Dell Technologies is wading deeper into the AMD-based systems market with a growing evaluation program for the latest Epyc (Rome) microprocessors from AMD. In a Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Debuts Pohoiki Beach, Its 8M Neuron Neuromorphic Development System

July 17, 2019

Neuromorphic computing has received less fanfare of late than quantum computing whose mystery has captured public attention and which seems to have generated mo Read more…

By John Russell

Rise of NIH’s Biowulf Mirrors the Rise of Computational Biology

July 29, 2019

The story of NIH’s supercomputer Biowulf is fascinating, important, and in many ways representative of the transformation of life sciences and biomedical res Read more…

By John Russell

Xilinx vs. Intel: FPGA Market Leaders Launch Server Accelerator Cards

August 6, 2019

The two FPGA market leaders, Intel and Xilinx, both announced new accelerator cards this week designed to handle specialized, compute-intensive workloads and un Read more…

By Doug Black

When Dense Matrix Representations Beat Sparse

September 9, 2019

In our world filled with unintended consequences, it turns out that saving memory space to help deal with GPU limitations, knowing it introduces performance pen Read more…

By James Reinders

With the Help of HPC, Astronomers Prepare to Deflect a Real Asteroid

September 26, 2019

For years, NASA has been running simulations of asteroid impacts to understand the risks (and likelihoods) of asteroids colliding with Earth. Now, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are preparing for the next, crucial step in planetary defense against asteroid impacts: physically deflecting a real asteroid. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This