On the Origin of Utility Computing

By By Derrick Harris, Editor

September 24, 2007

Although it has been criticized by many analysts and experts who question its overall business model — often wondering whether mainstream users would ever be comfortable running mission-critical jobs or services externally — utility computing has not gone away.

In fact, if one were to ask around, he would very likely hear about a wide variety of utility solutions being offered by an equally varied group of vendors. If one were to dig a little deeper into these solutions, he would find that utility computing sure has matured since its early days of A offering B the ability to run jobs on A’s big collection of servers. Truth be told, “matured” might not be the right verb; it probably would be more accurate to say that, like so many technologies before it, utility computing has “evolved.”

And just like looking at the evolutionary paths of species whose current members have branched off into incarnations that barely (if at all) resemble their ancient ancestors, utility computing today takes many, sometimes unrecognizable, forms. However, unlike those species, the various incarnations of utility computing seek to do more than just survive — they seek to transform the way the world does enterprise computing.

In this two-part series, we will take a look at four distinct utility models, which, although very different aesthetically, all aim to give users on-demand access to needed resources while easing the increasingly cumbersome task of datacenter management. To start, we examine Sun’s Network.com and Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), two services that tackle external utility computing in two very unique ways …

Grid Computing for the Masses

Perhaps the most familiar-looking utility model we’ll discuss here, Sun Microsystems’ Network.com offers users the ability to run their compute-intensive applications on the Sun Grid, essentially a Sun Grid Engine-powered datacenter, for the firm price of $1/CPU/hour.

When it launched in March 2006, Network.com users were required to write their own applications to fit the Solaris-based grid, which they could then get up and running via a Web interface. Since then, however, Sun has been tweaking Network.com to make it more user-friendly, most noticeably by adding an application catalog featuring a variety of applications across a range of industries. Customers using these pre-configured applications simply submit their data and the application runs — there is no need to write or rewrite code to specifically fit the Network.com infrastructure.

While this model has its fans, particularly among traditional HPC users like life sciences and modeling shops, Sun is looking for more users, which just might come thanks to an emerging couple of use cases. According to Mark Herring, director of marketing for Network.com, Sun is seeing increased interest from ISVs looking to leverage the grid’s resources to provide software services to third-party customers.

In some cases, such as with financials services ISV CDO2 and sales performance management leader Callidus, Network.com allows them a relatively inexpensive and simple way to get into the software-as-a-service market without having to host applications on their internal hardware. The formula is pretty simple: customers pay the software vendors to utilize their on-demand applications (generally via a Web portal), which actually are being run on Network.com. A similar model also is being utilized by data management company InfoSolve, who simply uses Network.com as its backend resource center. As of right now, every single data quality service InfoSolve runs for its customers is done on the Sun Grid. Although it is too early to tell, Herring believes this model could mean big business for Sun, as it offers an option for getting general computing ISVs and users on board in a highly transparent manner.

For Sun, though, its aspirations don’t end with a new usage model for Network.com; the company is searching for the elusive “killer app” that will do for on-demand computing what Google Maps did for Ajax. According to Herring, while the near-term goals for Network.com are to bring more applications into its catalog — particularly in the life sciences area — the company is hearing “murmurs and noise” suggesting there is a demand for the ability to run non-grid-enabled applications on the Network.com infrastructure, and Sun also is thinking about working development and office productivity tools into the fold.

The reason for this, said Herring, lies in the presumption that what we call “utility” today is “going to take more and more of the lion’s share of computing, period.” Sun doesn’t believe that a one-size-fits-all approach to the utility market will suffice, so now that Network.com has grid under its belt, it can start looking at other models, such as more general hosting, storage farms and Google-type software applications. Although Herring can’t elaborate on details, he noted that some of these potential services are currently being demoed internally.

“We definitely don’t look at Network.com and say, ‘Hey, we’re done here. We’ve solved utility computing,’” said Herring. “We’ve solved a piece of it, [but] there’s a lot more pieces and I think the only thing that creates a complete solution is to have each one of those use cases taken care of.”

Bare Metal, Web Services and ‘Elasticity’

Of all the utility services being offered today — outsourced or in-house, virtualized or physical — the one with the most buzz surrounding it has to be Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Developed initially to relieve Amazon’s many internal teams of the various “heavy lifting” tasks necessary to launch the company’s software services — tasks that consumed time and money that could have been spent delivering actual business value — the company eventually realized that the utility infrastructure in which it invested so much money could deliver real value outside of Amazon, as well.

What separates EC2 from its competitors, said Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, is that EC2, as well as its sister S3 (Simple Storage Service), is designed for developers and relies on Web services. To get started, a developer: (1) selects an Amazon Image Service (AMI), Xen-enabled Linux images ranging from standard Red Hat images to specialized images with Hadoop parallel computing or specific grid services built in, or constructs his own; (2) communicates with EC2 via Web services calls to determine how many of the AMIs to start, get the AMIs instantiated, and figure out the IP addresses and other virtual machine specs; and (3) configures security around the AMIs, deciding who can access which services. “You can do computation or you can offer a service to the outside world,” said Vogels. “Whatever you do inside these environments is all up to you.”

EC2 also sets itself apart by providing low-level services, or what Vogels calls “infrastructure-level” services, that offer access to as close to the bare metal as possible. When compared to Network.com, for example, a users AMIs in EC2 would be analogous to the physical infrastructure that comprises the Sun Grid. The big difference, however, is that EC2 users can run whatever services they want within that “infrastructure,” grid or not. According to Vogels, when combined with the dynamic nature of EC2, this freedom of services is one of the solution’s biggest draws.

As evidence of just how wide open the platform is when a little creativity is applied to it, Vogels can rattle off an expansive list of EC2 use cases, which includes, among others: grid or parallel computing; Web 2.0; testing and integration; third-party rendering; search engines; and Web crawlers. However, he said, some markets, such as those that have traditionally utilized grid or HPC technologies, move faster than others. In the case at hand, Vogels said users are finding that EC2 is not too big a step from running and managing their parallel and/or distributed datacenters.

Despite its fundamental differences from Network.com, though, the two solutions do have something in common: both are proving popular with “traditional software houses” that want to break into the software-as-a-service (SaaS) market. Although the companies see the potential of SaaS, said Vogels, they often have little operational experience beyond running their own Web sites, and they almost certainly have no experience running large-scale datacenters out of which they have to offer services. Just like for Amazon’s internal teams, EC2 allows these companies to minimize their datacenter management issues and focus on their core strengths around software development.

In addition, as noted earlier, EC2 also is sharing in the burgeoning Web 2.0 market. Just like with SaaS customers, Vogels said EC2 offers Web 2.0 firms a prime opportunity to focus on the important issues. “… [EC2] allows them to focus their scarce resources — in this case, finances — on actually acquiring talent instead of acquiring computer servers,” commented Vogels. Because these companies often only get one shot at success, he added, it is crucial that they can prepare themselves for success without making huge upfront investments in datacenter resources.

With such a wide breadth of uses, one probably shouldn’t be surprised to learn that EC2, which currently is in a limited beta mode, is experiencing “almost unlimited demand,” with presently available resources continuously in use and a long line of interested customers. From Vogels’ point of view, this demand should only continue to grow, as users really like on-demand resources and love paying only for actual usage. A low barrier to entry doesn’t hurt, either.

Citing Wall Street firms and government agencies as real-life examples, Vogels said many of EC2’s heaviest users came on board just to experiment and ended up getting hooked. “[A]s long as you’re a developer with a credit card,” Vogels summarized, “you can do this.”

—–

Be sure to watch for next week’s issue, where we will present two solutions that turn utility computing on its head by bringing this traditionally external practice in-house.

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!

Supercomputers Streamline Prediction of Dangerous Arrhythmia

June 2, 2020

Heart arrhythmia can prove deadly, contributing to the hundreds of thousands of deaths from cardiac arrest in the U.S. every year. Unfortunately, many of those arrhythmia are induced as side effects from various medicati Read more…

By Staff report

Indiana University to Deploy Jetstream 2 Cloud with AMD, Nvidia Technology

June 2, 2020

Indiana University has been awarded a $10 million NSF grant to build ‘Jetstream 2,’ a cloud computing system that will provide 8 aggregate petaflops of computing capability in support of data analysis and AI workload Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been instrumental to AMD’s datacenter market resurgence. Nanomet Read more…

By Doug Black

Supercomputer-Powered Protein Simulations Approach Lab Accuracy

June 1, 2020

Protein simulations have dominated the supercomputing conversation of late as supercomputers around the world race to simulate the viral proteins of COVID-19 as accurately as possible and simulate potential bindings in t Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPC Career Notes: June 2020 Edition

June 1, 2020

In this monthly feature, we'll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high-performance computing community. Whether it's a promotion, new company hire, or even an accolade, we've got Read more…

By Mariana Iriarte

AWS Solution Channel

Computational Fluid Dynamics on AWS

Over the past 30 years Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) has grown to become a key part of many engineering design processes. From aircraft design to modelling the blood flow in our bodies, the ability to understand the behaviour of fluids has enabled countless innovations and improved the time to market for many products. Read more…

Supercomputer Modeling Shows How COVID-19 Spreads Through Populations

May 30, 2020

As many states begin to loosen the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders that have forced most Americans inside for the past two months, researchers are poring over the data, looking for signs of the dreaded second peak of t Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Indiana University to Deploy Jetstream 2 Cloud with AMD, Nvidia Technology

June 2, 2020

Indiana University has been awarded a $10 million NSF grant to build ‘Jetstream 2,’ a cloud computing system that will provide 8 aggregate petaflops of comp Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

COVID-19 HPC Consortium Expands to Europe, Reports on Research Projects

May 28, 2020

The COVID-19 HPC Consortium, a public-private effort delivering free access to HPC processing for scientists pursuing coronavirus research – some utilizing AI Read more…

By Doug Black

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Boosts Deep Learning Accuracy on Memristive Chips

May 27, 2020

IBM researchers have taken another step towards making in-memory computing based on phase change (PCM) memory devices a reality. Papers in Nature and Frontiers Read more…

By John Russell

Hats Over Hearts: Remembering Rich Brueckner

May 26, 2020

HPCwire and all of the Tabor Communications family are saddened by last week’s passing of Rich Brueckner. He was the ever-optimistic man in the Red Hat presiding over the InsideHPC media portfolio for the past decade and a constant presence at HPC’s most important events. Read more…

Nvidia Q1 Earnings Top Expectations, Datacenter Revenue Breaks $1B

May 22, 2020

Nvidia’s seemingly endless roll continued in the first quarter with the company announcing blockbuster earnings that exceeded Wall Street expectations. Nvidia Read more…

By Doug Black

Microsoft’s Massive AI Supercomputer on Azure: 285k CPU Cores, 10k GPUs

May 20, 2020

Microsoft has unveiled a supercomputing monster – among the world’s five most powerful, according to the company – aimed at what is known in scientific an Read more…

By Doug Black

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

AMD
AMD
ASROCK RACK
ASROCK RACK
AWS
AWS
CEJN
CJEN
CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
IBM
IBM
MELLANOX
MELLANOX
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
SIX NINES IT
SIX NINES IT
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL
WEKAIO
WEKAIO

Contributors

Tech Conferences Are Being Canceled Due to Coronavirus

March 3, 2020

Several conferences scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, including Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC) and the Strata Data + AI conference, have Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Exascale Watch: El Capitan Will Use AMD CPUs & GPUs to Reach 2 Exaflops

March 4, 2020

HPE and its collaborators reported today that El Capitan, the forthcoming exascale supercomputer to be sited at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and serve Read more…

By John Russell

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Cray to Provide NOAA with Two AMD-Powered Supercomputers

February 24, 2020

The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week announced plans for a major refresh of its operational weather forecasting supercomputers, part of a 10-year, $505.2 million program, which will secure two HPE-Cray systems for NOAA’s National Weather Service to be fielded later this year and put into production in early 2022. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

Fujitsu A64FX Supercomputer to Be Deployed at Nagoya University This Summer

February 3, 2020

Japanese tech giant Fujitsu announced today that it will supply Nagoya University Information Technology Center with the first commercial supercomputer powered Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even 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