High Performance Cloud Computing Still an Oxymoron

By Michael Feldman

June 25, 2009

One of the more heavily attended presentations of ISC’09 was the “Cloud Computing & HPC: Synergy or Competition?” session, which took place on Wednesday morning. The interest from ISC attendees seems to reflect the industry’s current obsession with all things cloudy. There was a good balance of skepticism and optimism on the panel, but overall I came away feeling they never really addressed the session’s question.

Representatives from HP (Richard Kaufmann, CTO Scalable Computing Infrastructure Organization), Sun Microsystems (Marc Hamilton, VP HPC & Cloud Computing), Microsoft (Dan Reed, Scalable & Multicore Computing Strategist), the Jülich Supercomputing Center (Thomas Lippert, Director, Jülich Supercomputing Center), Google (Robin Williamson, Engineering Director), Amazon (Simone Brunozzi, Amazon Web Services Technology Evangelist), and Yahoo (Dr. Sanjay Radia, Senior Architect, Hadoop Project) gave their interpretation of the cloud phenomenon, and participated in a panel discussion at the end to field questions from the audience.

There was general agreement on the benefits of cloud computing: elastic capacity, pay-per-use model, platform abstraction, economies of scale, and built-in fault tolerance. Unfortunately — and maybe significantly — there didn’t seem to be much consensus about whether the clouds would usurp traditional HPC infrastructure as the platform of choice.

In particular, the reps from the traditional cloud providers — Google, Amazon and Yahoo — didn’t directly address how general-purpose clouds would evolve to address the needs of high performance computing. They did mention frameworks like MapReduce and Hadoop as being suitable for processing extremely large data sets in a highly parallel manner. In particular, Simone Brunozzi highlighted Amazon’s Elastic MapReduce Web service, which is specifically designed for data-intensive apps like data mining, machine learning, financial analysis, scientific simulation, and bioinformatics. But no one in this group delved into performance issues or the need for more specialized infrastructure geared toward HPC.

The group from the HPC contingent (HP, Sun, Microsoft, Jülich) pointed out that cluster interconnect performance, in particular, will need to be addressed before cloud computing gets much traction with supercomputing users. Amazon EC2 gets halfway there by offering multiple types of servers, called instances. The instances are set at different price points depending upon the server profile — CPU horsepower, memory capacity and I/O capability. But as of today there is no option for, say, InfiniBand-equipped servers. The general consensus from HPC practitioners is that the lack of a high-performance fabric in these general-purpose clouds will restrict adoption. “It’s all about the interconnect,” noted HP’s Richard Kaufmann.

There are also data security and privacy issues, but they apply to a range of applications, not just HPC. These concerns are well known to cloud providers and presumably will be addressed more completely as a greater number of users demand them.

Sun’s Marc Hamilton brought up the issue of public and private clouds, noting that if your organization can achieve its own economy of scale with regard to computing capacity, private clouds may be the way to go. According to him, public and private clouds can live side-by-side, but only if interoperability (i.e., cloud API standards) are developed. Even the public cloud arena would benefit from these standards, since users would rather not be locked into a single provider. Hamilton, for example, noted that while the cost of entry into the Amazon cloud is very low, the cost of exit may end up being high. In fact, he blamed the lack of interoperability in Sun’s Network.com offering as a major contributor to its demise.

Thomas Lippert took on the role of the cloud skeptic, especially in regard to the kind of cutting-edge supercomputing that goes on at places like Jülich. He believes the cloud model won’t support leadership supercomputing. And it’s not just the performance issue. The whole supercomputing ecosystem at that level is so specialized (support, hardware, and software) and the lifecycles of such systems (3 to 5 years) are so limited, that the cloud model wouldn’t apply at all.

Lippert is probably right here. Although elite supercomputing is partially based on commodity hardware and software, the resulting infrastructure and applications are highly customized. Moving the grand challenge application people to the cloud would be like trying to convince Formula One racers to take the bus. Efficiency is not the driving force here.

On the other end of the spectrum was Microsoft’s Dan Reed. He believes it’s inevitable that cloud will engulf high performance computing, or at least the vast majority of it. The driver will be economics, inasmuch as the cloud makes computing and storing data in bulk extremely inexpensive. The idea is that just as commodity components crowded out specialized HPC architectures, cloud platforms will eventually edge out traditional HPC infrastructure.

Reed thinks much of the resistance to cloud computing by HPC users is actually sociological, not technological. Outside of the supercomputing realm, most users don’t care about infrastructure. They’re being paid to focus on their applications and produce results. Most of them would like to avoid dealing with the inner workings of the platform. As Reed put it: “Successful technologies are invisible.”

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!

U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios Adds DoD Research & Engineering Title

July 13, 2020

Michael Kratsios, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, has been appointed acting Undersecretary of Defense for research and engineering. He replaces Mike Griffin, who along with his deputy Lis Porter, stepped down last wee Read more…

By John Russell

Supercomputer Research Reveals Star Cluster Born Outside Our Galaxy

July 11, 2020

The Milky Way is our galactic home, containing our solar system and continuing into a giant band of densely packed stars that stretches across clear night skies around the world – but, it turns out, not all of those st Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprised of Intel Xeon processors and Nvidia A100 GPUs, and featuri Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Xilinx Announces First Adaptive Computing Challenge

July 9, 2020

A new contest is challenging the computing world. Xilinx has announced the first Xilinx Adaptive Computing Challenge, a competition that will task developers and startups with finding creative workload acceleration solutions. Xilinx is running the Adaptive Computing Challenge in partnership with Hackster.io, a developing community... Read more…

By Staff report

Reviving Moore’s Law? LBNL Researchers See Promise in Heterostructure Oxides

July 9, 2020

The reality of Moore’s law’s decline is no longer doubted for good empirical reasons. That said, never say never. Recent work by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers suggests heterostructure oxides may b Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Solution Channel

Best Practices for Running Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) Workloads on AWS

The scalable nature and variable demand of CFD workloads makes them well-suited for a cloud computing environment. Many of the AWS instance types, such as the compute family instance types, are designed to include support for this type of workload.  Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

President’s Council Targets AI, Quantum, STEM; Recommends Spending Growth

July 9, 2020

Last week the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met (webinar) to review policy recommendations around three sub-committee reports: 1) Industries of the Future (IotF), chaired be Dario Gil (d Read more…

By John Russell

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprise Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

President’s Council Targets AI, Quantum, STEM; Recommends Spending Growth

July 9, 2020

Last week the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met (webinar) to review policy recommendations around three sub-committee reports: Read more…

By John Russell

Google Cloud Debuts 16-GPU Ampere A100 Instances

July 7, 2020

On the heels of the Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU launch in May, Google Cloud is announcing alpha availability of the A100 “Accelerator Optimized” VM A2 instance family on Google Compute Engine. The instances are powered by the HGX A100 16-GPU platform, which combines two HGX A100 8-GPU baseboards using... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Q&A: HLRS’s Bastian Koller Tackles HPC and Industry in Germany and Europe

July 6, 2020

In this exclusive interview for HPCwire – sadly not face to face – Steve Conway, senior advisor for Hyperion Research, talks with Dr.-Ing Bastian Koller about the state of HPC and its collaboration with Industry in Europe. Koller is a familiar figure in HPC. He is the managing director at High Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS) and also serves... Read more…

By Steve Conway, Hyperion

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

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

Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award 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

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

Leading Solution Providers


Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘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

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

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

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

$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

John Martinis Reportedly Leaves Google Quantum Effort

April 21, 2020

John Martinis, who led Google’s quantum computing effort since establishing its quantum hardware group in 2014, has left Google after being moved into an advi Read more…

By John Russell

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