Will Public Clouds Ever Be Suitable for HPC?

By Nicole Hemsoth

June 27, 2010

For those who believe HPC is on the cusp of a revolution in terms of access and usability — especially for non-technical researchers — there are big, ever-lingering questions about how to make a general purpose cloud fit for HPC workloads. The end of most of these discussions comes when the topic of performance emerges because, let’s face it, there are not many appealing features to a large public cloud like Amazon for researchers with very specific compute demands. Having the power on demand is nice, but if the performance is the price to pay then it renders the idea useless.

If it’s a large public cloud we’re talking about — one that is most often used for scientific and large-scale enterprise computing — chances are it’s Amazon’s EC2. There are other public cloud providers, of course, but for the sake of argument, Amazon’s Elastic Compute offering is the poster child for cloud computing and often the first choice — if only because it has been around the longest. From startup cloud providers to big players, Amazon symbolizes the possibilities of cloud for everyone while it epitomizes the problems inherent to the cloud concept as it pertains to HPC.

Not to pick on EC2 here since there are several other public cloud providers to choose from, but it seems that most of the researchers who have made broader use of the public cloud, from large institutions down to individuals working on complex problems, have made this their premium choice. Will it stay this way forever? Probably not, especially since Microsoft and others are chomping at the bit for their share of the cloud movement with a direct focus on the HPC market. In fact, as it becomes clear that there might be benefits for scientific computing in the cloud at the same time that it is becoming glaringly obvious that the cloud-for-everyone will not apply for this specialized subset of users.

The Stagnant Public Cloud

It’s difficult to foster hope for greater use of the public cloud when it is not modified to any significant degree since its standard resources are providing enough to keep this end of the Amazon empire running.

Dr. Dieter Kranzlmuller in the German magazine Computer Woche suggested there are only very limited uses for the public cloud in HPC. “The effective use of a cloud is dependent on the applications. The cloud can be used appropriately when dealing with linear processes and independent, relatively small data volumes. For applications with larger storage requirements or closely coupled parallel processes with high I/O requirements, clouds are often useless.”

Way back in 2008, Edward Walker published a study entitled, “Benchmarking Amazon’s EC2 for High-Performance Scientific Computing” that provided results based on macro and micro comparison points to form a solid theory about the performance gap in the public cloud, even with equivalent processing power. This of course boils down to the MPI and interconnects issue — just as it still does today. The mere act of virtualization renders the cloud almost useless to many scientific HPC clusters, in other words.

According to Walker in his older yet still just-as-relevant report based on the benchmarking study, “the delivery of HPC performance with commercial cloud computing services such as Amazon EC2 is not yet mature…a performance gap exists between performing HPC computations on a traditional scientific cluster and on an EC2 provisioned scientific cluster. This performance gap is seen not only in the MPI performance of distributed-memory parallel programs but also in the single compute node OpenMP performance for shared-memory parallel programs. For cloud computing to be a viable alternative for the computational science community, vendors will need to upgrade their service offerings, especially in the area of high-performance network provisioning to cater to this unique class of users.”

Since the vendor in question here — Amazon — has not upgraded its service offerings, the time has come for others to pick up the slack and create specialized cloud environments that are in tune with the performance demands of HPC users if the cloud vision is to be realized for its cost benefits.

None of this portends well for strict HPC applications in a large public cloud offering like Amazon’s. EC2 and other public clouds designed to run everything from big commercial websites to outsourced large batch jobs might seem appealing on a cursory glance to many, but as William Fellows, analyst at the 451 Group, stated, “The main problem with running HPC tasks on conventional clouds is that conventional clouds are geared toward supporting general-purposes applications and services — short transactional workloads such as web applications and database tasks…theses are heavily dependent on the need to be processed serially and within an infrastructure geared toward supporting inter-process communication.”

In other words, the public cloud is designed for an admirably long list of workloads but HPC in general — not so much. But really, when you get right down to it, why should EC2 change its style to fit the needs of scientific users in the first place when it is doing just fine serving the needs of mainstream users? After all, other companies who already have some degree of HPC supremacy are making headway as they are better positioned to tailor their approach to coaxing researchers on to their clouds — in whatever form they’ve devised.

Bridges Across the Performance Chasm

When so many think about the cloud in general, the first thought is about large-scale cloud providers like Amazon, but the fact is, there are an increasing number of choices that remove the performance gap caused by virtualization or that have clouds that are tailored to the performance-driven needs of HPC users.

IBM, Microsoft, SGI, Penguin, Cycle and a handful of others that do not work directly to manage their clients’ push to the public cloud via a layer of cloud management software are doing so in part because they’ve realized that there is no broad appeal for true, traditional HPC users to move to EC2. They realize that the environment needs to be customized, that the performance is the most critical factor in gaining converts — and most importantly, that there is no public cloud that can beat the power of a cluster. So in a manner that screams “grid” they are renting specialized clusters that are specifically designed for HPC users.

In an effort to overcome the performance gap yet still provide users with the freedom of owning and managing their own clusters, Penguin On-Demand (POD) and others, including Cycle Computing, are taking the concept of the cloud for HPC and making it more attractive to HPC users by eliminating the virtualization and providing customized servers. This missing layer of virtualization adds some complication to the term “cloud” but it is a logical step for researchers who are attracted to the cost benefits of avoiding the expense of a cluster investment. Since many HPC users have found that large public clouds, most notably Amazon’s EC2, do not offer the service levels they depend on, it is reasonable to predict that there will be a host of new upstarts that seek to bring dedicated servers to researchers in an on-demand fashion versus creating a complex management layer that is tied to the public cloud.

This is not to say that EC2 is not being used with some success, but most often these are jobs are that are not necessarily HPC-like. As Kathy Yelick, director of NERSC, noted in a recent interview about current developments in the Magellan cloud, “there’s a part of the workload in scientific computing that’s well-suited to the cloud, but it’s not the HPC end, it’s really the bulk aggregate serial workload that often comes up in scientific computing, but that is not really the traditional arena of high-performance computing.”

If existing cloud providers with their eyes on the HPC market can better tailor their solutions to meet the broader range of HPC application needs with a distinct focus on performance, it stands to reason that the world of the public cloud will be out of reach to Amazon and other general purpose cloud providers.

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!

HPC Startup Advances Auto-Parallelization’s Promise

January 23, 2017

The shift from single core to multicore hardware has made finding parallelism in codes more important than ever, but that hasn’t made the task of parallel programming any easier. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Answered Prayers for High Frequency Traders? Latency Cut to 20 Nanoseconds

January 23, 2017

“You can buy your way out of bandwidth problems. But latency is divine.”

This sentiment, from Intel Technical Computing Group CTO Mark Seager, seems as old as the Bible, a truth universally acknowledged. Read more…

By Doug Black

CMU’s Latest “Card Shark” – Libratus – is Beating the Poker Pros (Again)

January 20, 2017

It’s starting to look like Carnegie Mellon University has a gambling problem – can’t stay away from the poker table. Read more…

By John Russell

IDG to Be Bought by Chinese Investors; IDC to Spin Out HPC Group

January 19, 2017

US-based publishing and investment firm International Data Group, Inc. (IDG) will be acquired by a pair of Chinese investors, China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co., Ltd. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Enhancing Patient Care with Next-Generation Sequencing

In the ever-evolving world of life sciences, speed, accuracy, and savings are more important than ever. Today’s scientists and healthcare professionals are leveraging high-performance computing (HPC) solutions to solve the world’s greatest health problems and accelerate the diagnoses and treatment of a variety of medical conditions. Read more…

Weekly Twitter Roundup (Jan. 19, 2017)

January 19, 2017

Here at HPCwire, we aim to keep the HPC community apprised of the most relevant and interesting news items that get tweeted throughout the week. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

France’s CEA and Japan’s RIKEN to Partner on ARM and Exascale

January 19, 2017

France’s CEA and Japan’s RIKEN institute announced a multi-faceted five-year collaboration to advance HPC generally and prepare for exascale computing. Among the particulars are efforts to: build out the ARM ecosystem; work on code development and code sharing on the existing and future platforms; share expertise in specific application areas (material and seismic sciences for example); improve techniques for using numerical simulation with big data; and expand HPC workforce training. It seems to be a very full agenda. Read more…

By Nishi Katsuya and John Russell

ARM Waving: Attention, Deployments, and Development

January 18, 2017

It’s been a heady two weeks for the ARM HPC advocacy camp. At this week’s Mont-Blanc Project meeting held at the Barcelona Supercomputer Center, Cray announced plans to build an ARM-based supercomputer in the U.K. while Mont-Blanc selected Cavium’s ThunderX2 ARM chip for its third phase of development. Last week, France’s CEA and Japan’s Riken announced a deep collaboration aimed largely at fostering the ARM ecosystem. This activity follows a busy 2016 when SoftBank acquired ARM, OpenHPC announced ARM support, ARM released its SVE spec, Fujistu chose ARM for the post K machine, and ARM acquired HPC tool provider Allinea in December. Read more…

By John Russell

Women Coders from Russia, Italy, and Poland Top Study

January 17, 2017

According to a study posted on HackerRank today the best women coders as judged by performance on HackerRank challenges come from Russia, Italy, and Poland. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Startup Advances Auto-Parallelization’s Promise

January 23, 2017

The shift from single core to multicore hardware has made finding parallelism in codes more important than ever, but that hasn’t made the task of parallel programming any easier. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Answered Prayers for High Frequency Traders? Latency Cut to 20 Nanoseconds

January 23, 2017

“You can buy your way out of bandwidth problems. But latency is divine.”

This sentiment, from Intel Technical Computing Group CTO Mark Seager, seems as old as the Bible, a truth universally acknowledged. Read more…

By Doug Black

IDG to Be Bought by Chinese Investors; IDC to Spin Out HPC Group

January 19, 2017

US-based publishing and investment firm International Data Group, Inc. (IDG) will be acquired by a pair of Chinese investors, China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co., Ltd. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

France’s CEA and Japan’s RIKEN to Partner on ARM and Exascale

January 19, 2017

France’s CEA and Japan’s RIKEN institute announced a multi-faceted five-year collaboration to advance HPC generally and prepare for exascale computing. Among the particulars are efforts to: build out the ARM ecosystem; work on code development and code sharing on the existing and future platforms; share expertise in specific application areas (material and seismic sciences for example); improve techniques for using numerical simulation with big data; and expand HPC workforce training. It seems to be a very full agenda. Read more…

By Nishi Katsuya and John Russell

ARM Waving: Attention, Deployments, and Development

January 18, 2017

It’s been a heady two weeks for the ARM HPC advocacy camp. At this week’s Mont-Blanc Project meeting held at the Barcelona Supercomputer Center, Cray announced plans to build an ARM-based supercomputer in the U.K. while Mont-Blanc selected Cavium’s ThunderX2 ARM chip for its third phase of development. Last week, France’s CEA and Japan’s Riken announced a deep collaboration aimed largely at fostering the ARM ecosystem. This activity follows a busy 2016 when SoftBank acquired ARM, OpenHPC announced ARM support, ARM released its SVE spec, Fujistu chose ARM for the post K machine, and ARM acquired HPC tool provider Allinea in December. Read more…

By John Russell

Spurred by Global Ambitions, Inspur in Joint HPC Deal with DDN

January 17, 2017

Inspur, the fast-growth cloud computing and server vendor from China that has several systems on the current Top500 list, and DDN, a leader in high-end storage, have announced a joint sales and marketing agreement to produce solutions based on DDN storage platforms integrated with servers, networking, software and services from Inspur. Read more…

By Doug Black

For IBM/OpenPOWER: Success in 2017 = (Volume) Sales

January 11, 2017

To a large degree IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation have done what they said they would – assembling a substantial and growing ecosystem and bringing Power-based products to market, all in about three years. Read more…

By John Russell

UberCloud Cites Progress in HPC Cloud Computing

January 10, 2017

200 HPC cloud experiments, 80 case studies, and a ton of hands-on experience gained, that’s the harvest of four years of UberCloud HPC Experiments. Read more…

By Wolfgang Gentzsch and Burak Yenier

AWS Beats Azure to K80 General Availability

September 30, 2016

Amazon Web Services has seeded its cloud with Nvidia Tesla K80 GPUs to meet the growing demand for accelerated computing across an increasingly-diverse range of workloads. The P2 instance family is a welcome addition for compute- and data-focused users who were growing frustrated with the performance limitations of Amazon's G2 instances, which are backed by three-year-old Nvidia GRID K520 graphics cards. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

For IBM/OpenPOWER: Success in 2017 = (Volume) Sales

January 11, 2017

To a large degree IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation have done what they said they would – assembling a substantial and growing ecosystem and bringing Power-based products to market, all in about three years. Read more…

By John Russell

US, China Vie for Supercomputing Supremacy

November 14, 2016

The 48th edition of the TOP500 list is fresh off the presses and while there is no new number one system, as previously teased by China, there are a number of notable entrants from the US and around the world and significant trends to report on. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Vectors: How the Old Became New Again in Supercomputing

September 26, 2016

Vector instructions, once a powerful performance innovation of supercomputing in the 1970s and 1980s became an obsolete technology in the 1990s. But like the mythical phoenix bird, vector instructions have arisen from the ashes. Here is the history of a technology that went from new to old then back to new. Read more…

By Lynd Stringer

Container App ‘Singularity’ Eases Scientific Computing

October 20, 2016

HPC container platform Singularity is just six months out from its 1.0 release but already is making inroads across the HPC research landscape. It's in use at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), where Singularity founder Gregory Kurtzer has worked in the High Performance Computing Services (HPCS) group for 16 years. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Dell EMC Engineers Strategy to Democratize HPC

September 29, 2016

The freshly minted Dell EMC division of Dell Technologies is on a mission to take HPC mainstream with a strategy that hinges on engineered solutions, beginning with a focus on three industry verticals: manufacturing, research and life sciences. "Unlike traditional HPC where everybody bought parts, assembled parts and ran the workloads and did iterative engineering, we want folks to focus on time to innovation and let us worry about the infrastructure," said Jim Ganthier, senior vice president, validated solutions organization at Dell EMC Converged Platforms Solution Division. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

D-Wave SC16 Update: What’s Bo Ewald Saying These Days

November 18, 2016

Tucked in a back section of the SC16 exhibit hall, quantum computing pioneer D-Wave has been talking up its new 2000-qubit processor announced in September. Forget for a moment the criticism sometimes aimed at D-Wave. This small Canadian company has sold several machines including, for example, ones to Lockheed and NASA, and has worked with Google on mapping machine learning problems to quantum computing. In July Los Alamos National Laboratory took possession of a 1000-quibit D-Wave 2X system that LANL ordered a year ago around the time of SC15. Read more…

By John Russell

Enlisting Deep Learning in the War on Cancer

December 7, 2016

Sometime in Q2 2017 the first ‘results’ of the Joint Design of Advanced Computing Solutions for Cancer (JDACS4C) will become publicly available according to Rick Stevens. He leads one of three JDACS4C pilot projects pressing deep learning (DL) into service in the War on Cancer. Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

Lighting up Aurora: Behind the Scenes at the Creation of the DOE’s Upcoming 200 Petaflops Supercomputer

December 1, 2016

In April 2015, U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary Franklin Orr announced that Intel would be the prime contractor for Aurora: Read more…

By Jan Rowell

CPU Benchmarking: Haswell Versus POWER8

June 2, 2015

With OpenPOWER activity ramping up and IBM’s prominent role in the upcoming DOE machines Summit and Sierra, it’s a good time to look at how the IBM POWER CPU stacks up against the x86 Xeon Haswell CPU from Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Sees Bright Future for AI Supercomputing

November 23, 2016

Graphics chipmaker Nvidia made a strong showing at SC16 in Salt Lake City last week. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Beyond von Neumann, Neuromorphic Computing Steadily Advances

March 21, 2016

Neuromorphic computing – brain inspired computing – has long been a tantalizing goal. The human brain does with around 20 watts what supercomputers do with megawatts. And power consumption isn’t the only difference. Fundamentally, brains ‘think differently’ than the von Neumann architecture-based computers. While neuromorphic computing progress has been intriguing, it has still not proven very practical. Read more…

By John Russell

BioTeam’s Berman Charts 2017 HPC Trends in Life Sciences

January 4, 2017

Twenty years ago high performance computing was nearly absent from life sciences. Today it’s used throughout life sciences and biomedical research. Genomics and the data deluge from modern lab instruments are the main drivers, but so is the longer-term desire to perform predictive simulation in support of Precision Medicine (PM). There’s even a specialized life sciences supercomputer, ‘Anton’ from D.E. Shaw Research, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is standing up its second Anton 2 and actively soliciting project proposals. There’s a lot going on. Read more…

By John Russell

The Exascale Computing Project Awards $39.8M to 22 Projects

September 7, 2016

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) hit an important milestone today with the announcement of its first round of funding, moving the nation closer to its goal of reaching capable exascale computing by 2023. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Dell Knights Landing Machine Sets New STAC Records

November 2, 2016

The Securities Technology Analysis Center, commonly known as STAC, has released a new report characterizing the performance of the Knight Landing-based Dell PowerEdge C6320p server on the STAC-A2 benchmarking suite, widely used by the financial services industry to test and evaluate computing platforms. The Dell machine has set new records for both the baseline Greeks benchmark and the large Greeks benchmark. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

What Knights Landing Is Not

June 18, 2016

As we get ready to launch the newest member of the Intel Xeon Phi family, code named Knights Landing, it is natural that there be some questions and potentially some confusion. Read more…

By James Reinders, Intel

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This