Amazon’s New HPC in the Cloud: Good Marketing or Real Progress?

By Wolfgang Gentzsch

July 17, 2010

A few days ago Amazon announced that it added HPC capabilities to EC2. This is great news indeed for the HPC community, because it further paves the way for HPC to becoming mainstream, which indicates there is cloud money to be made with HPC. Obviously, Amazon did a careful market analysis, and certainly got some requests from important users, and perhaps felt some pressure after rumors surfaced that Google’s server farmers are playing with Infiniband.

In more detail, Amazon added so-called Cluster Compute Instances (CCI) to EC2, each consisting of a pair of quad-core Intel X5570 (Nehalem) processors with a total of 33.5 ECU (EC2 Compute Units), 23 GB of RAM, and 1690 GB of local instance storage. CCIs are interconnected using a 10 Gbps Ethernet network. Within this network you can create one or more placement groups of type “cluster” and then launch CCIs within each group. Instances within each placement group of this type benefit from non-blocking bandwidth and low latency node to node communication. First benchmark results from LBNL show their HPC applications on CCIs ran 8.5 times faster than on the previous (vanilla) EC2 instance types.

So far so good. To me, in this context, there are two aspects which seem interesting: performance and price. Let’s look at performance first:

To achieve high performance, many HPC application programs have been optimized in the past for high execution speed, e.g. through parallelization of numerical algorithms, speeding up communication, overlapping communication with computation, and other sophisticated tricks. Thus an application programmer’s limits are mostly set by physical boundaries: e.g. if processors or interconnects are slow. Now that Amazon has added fast processors and Ethernet to its server farm, there is no surprise to see some interesting speedups over the standard EC2 servers and interconnection. But Ethernet is not Infiniband, and you still face the cloud’s virtualization layer, which may cause different parallel (virtual) processes sitting on different cluster compute instances which still may cause communication delays. Fair enough, Amazon admits that the only way to know if you got a genuine HPC setup for your specific application is to benchmark it, which is anyway a general wisdom in HPC (We should ask Ed Walker to repeat his NAS Parallel Benchmark tests from 2008 now on the new CCIs).

Looking closer into the TOP500 list, Amazon’s Linpack on 880 CCIs (7040 cores) and 41.82 TeraFLOPS is giving them the 146th position. Other Ethernet based supercomputers with a similar position have similar numbers of cores, no surprise. BUT, those with a similar position and with Infiniband interconnect need only about 4800 cores to achieve the same performance.

Therefore, my guess is that most of the average real HPC capability computing applications (e.g. in electronic design automation, automotive applications, or finite-element based material analysis) won’t show a big performance improvement over vanilla EC2 instances, especially those which really demand low latency and high bandwidh. But, fortunately, not all of the HPC applications have this demand; especially the many ones under the umbrella of  Capacity Computing with more loosely coupled parallelization (and thus moderate to no communication) might benefit from this improvement. And the fact that the Berkeley LBNL expert team has been involved in early beta, and certainly in consulting AWS and doing a lot of HPC benchmarking, gives the whole project real  credibility. I am sure we will soon see some good results, lessons learned, and recommendations from LBNL; at the latest when Kathy Yellick from LBNL will give her keynote at the ISC Cloud Conference in Frankfurt on October 29.

Another fact that Amazon seems to take HPC serious now is Cycle Computing’ s announcement to schedule HPC jobs on AWS Compute Clusters with Oracle Grid Engine resource manager which (as former Sun Grid Engine) is widely used today on HPC clusters and private clouds in research and industry.

Still the best solution for the HPC user would be if you were able to select between Ethernet and Infiniband, to switch virtualization on and off, and to chose between slower and faster CPUs, and multi-core optimization software such as MCOpt from eXludus. But building and maintaining such a variable cloud infrastructure for the small HPC community might not be economic, or might become much more expensive for the user than to maintain her own internal HPC cluster.

 The second important factor in this scenario is price. Let’s look at Amazon’s Linpack benchmark on its CCIs. Each CCI as described above costs $1.60 per hour. Amazon ran Linpack on 880 CCIs (7040 cores) and measured the overall performance at 41.82 TeraFLOPS giving them the 146th position on the TOP500 list. The cost for such a CCI cluster is 1.6*24*30*880  = $1M per month and $12M per year (and if you select Reserved Clusters the price will be 4.3M per year). Not cheap.

In industry, many HPC infrastructures are so well managed that they are at top utilization for almost all the time and their capacity is also tuned to be sufficient for their regular workloads. If capacity needs are trending upwards then they adjust.

But, there is one use case for which Amazon’s CCI can be very useful: What if a department has a fire-drill project for which additional resources are needed immediately, and if only for a restricted period of time? Today, nobody has a simple solution to address this. It takes six months on average to procure, deploy and activate new resources. So they either can’t do it, or they delay other work to free up capacity for the urgent project to run. That might work for a project requiring a few hours or days of access to resources but not for something requiring months. And apparently many companies have those fire-drill problems in some regularity.

And that’s exactly where they would like to use clouds. They’d have the ability to come back and say to the user: “the option we can offer to you is more expensive and has worse performance plus you need to be aware of certain security and data privacy issues but if you’re willing to put up with that then we can provide you a solution.” And by virtue of existing Cloud Adapter software (for cloud bursting as exemplified and simplified by the Service Domain Manager for OGE)  the end-user will actually get the illusion to work inside his company’s regular HPC environment.

Thus, usage of clouds is anticipated to add more options and flexibility to their current IT infrastructure which by all means will be maintained and even will grow. If you are a large corporation and if you have an established and well managed (!) data center then operating your own is more effective. The picture looks different if you are a small or medium sized enterprise which starts getting its feet wet on such infrastructure. Or for that matter also if you are a larger corporation and you have troubles with your data center as it stands. Instead of going through the learning curve of getting your own infrastructure “right” you might choose just to rely on a service like AWS.

Dr. Wolfgang Gentzsch is the General Chair for ISC Cloud’10, taking place October 28-29, in Frankfurt, Germany.  ISC Cloud’10 will focus on practical solutions by bridging the gap between research and industry in cloud computing. Information about the event can be found at the ISC Cloud event website.  HPC in the Cloud is a proud media partner of ISC Cloud’10.

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!

Neural Networking Shows Promise in Earthquake Monitoring

February 21, 2018

A team of Harvard University and MIT researchers report their new neural networking method for monitoring earthquakes is more accurate and orders of magnitude faster than traditional approaches. Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Wins $57 Million DoD Supercomputing Contract

February 20, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today revealed details of its massive $57 million HPC contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The deal calls for HPE to provide the DoD High Performance Computing Modernizatio Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Topological Quantum Superconductor Progress Reported

February 20, 2018

Overcoming sensitivity to decoherence is a persistent stumbling block in efforts to build effective quantum computers. Now, a group of researchers from Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden) report progress in devisi Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Safeguard Your HPC Environment with the World’s Most Secure Industry Standard Servers

Today’s organizations operate in an environment with ever-evolving threats, and in order to protect themselves they must continuously bolster their security strategy. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Intel® are addressing modern security challenges with the world’s most secure industry standard servers powered by the latest generation of Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors. Read more…

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penalties to HPC applications. Even as these patches are rolled o Read more…

By Pete Beckman

Neural Networking Shows Promise in Earthquake Monitoring

February 21, 2018

A team of Harvard University and MIT researchers report their new neural networking method for monitoring earthquakes is more accurate and orders of magnitude faster than traditional approaches. Read more…

By John Russell

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penal Read more…

By Pete Beckman

Brookhaven Ramps Up Computing for National Security Effort

February 14, 2018

Last week, Dan Coats, the director of Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, much as it stands accused of doing in the 2016 Presidential election. Read more…

By John Russell

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Food Industry’s Next Journey — from Mars to Exascale

February 12, 2018

Global food producer and one of the world's leading chocolate companies Mars Inc. has a unique perspective on the impact that exascale computing will have on the food industry. Read more…

By Scott Gibson, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Singularity HPC Container Start-Up – Sylabs – Emerges from Stealth

February 8, 2018

The driving force behind Singularity, the popular HPC container technology, is bringing the open source platform to the enterprise with the launch of a new vent Read more…

By George Leopold

Dell EMC Debuts PowerEdge Servers with AMD EPYC Chips

February 6, 2018

AMD notched another EPYC processor win today with Dell EMC’s introduction of three PowerEdge servers (R6415, R7415, and R7425) based on the EPYC 7000-series p Read more…

By John Russell

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

V100 Good but not Great on Select Deep Learning Aps, Says Xcelerit

November 27, 2017

Wringing optimum performance from hardware to accelerate deep learning applications is a challenge that often depends on the specific application in use. A benc Read more…

By John Russell

SC17: Singularity Preps Version 3.0, Nears 1M Containers Served Daily

November 1, 2017

Just a few months ago about half a million jobs were being run daily using Singularity containers, the LBNL-founded container platform intended for HPC. That wa Read more…

By John Russell

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