To Build or to Buy Time: That is the Question

By Nicole Hemsoth

August 11, 2010

Generally, when one thinks about the vast array of small to medium-sized businesses deploying a cloud to handle peak loads or even mission-critical operations, the idea that such a business might be designing the future of missile defense strategy isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. After all, SMB concerns have historically not had much in common with those of large-scale enterprise and HPC users. The cloud is creating a convergence of these spaces and smaller businesses that were once unable to gain a foothold in their market due to high infrastructure start-up costs are now a competitive force due to the availablity of shared or rented infrastructure and a virtualized environment. This convergence creates new possibilites but can complicate end user decision-making about ideal options for mission-critical workloads.

Analytical Services, Inc. (ASI), a U.S. Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency subcontractor recently used Sabalcore’s high performance computing (HPC) on-demand services to design aerospike nozzles for use in missile systems. These developments in aerospikes represent a significant improvement from a design perspective but required enormous compute power to bring them to market. Orlando, Florida-based Sabalcore, a relatively small company, was able to provide the Linux cluster required for the task while allowing ASI to eliminate the overhead of investing in their own hardware to meet the design challenges.

According to Joseph D. Sims, Technical Director of Engineering at ASI, “Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) is critical to our design efforts, which means we cannot complete that design without Sabalcore’s Linux cluster. We, like many small businesses, cannot afford the luxury of buying and maintaining our own.” Sims went on to note that as with other design projects requiring high levels of compute power, ASI’s goals meshed well with the Linux clusters on-demand because “we could not hope to support our design efforts with CFD running on a serial computer (e.g., a desktop or workstation).” ASI’s Technical Director stated that following comparisons of buying and maintaining a cluster versus buying the access to the Linux cluster, there was “a huge cost savings” that could be realized.

Dividing Line on Building Versus Buying Time?

Gauging from conversations with vendors and end users alike, it is this investment avoidance, coupled with the on-demand nature that makes HPC on-demand services like those offered by Sabalcore and a handful of others (Cycle, Penguin, rSystems, SGI, etc.) attractive. This, along with the fact that HPC on-demand providers tout their high level of personalized support makes this an attractive option—sometimes more attractive than a public cloud.

One has to wonder where the dividing line is for those making decisions about buying versus renting time via an on-demand service—all coupled with the added possibility of the cloud. For some it is about price, for others, it’s rooted in performance goals, for others security. There are no hard and fast rules of thumb for end users but it might seem more attractive to take someone else’s cluster for a guided spin versus tweak applications to suit a cloud that might not yet have proved itself as a viable option.

So where does the cloud fall short when it’s decision time for end users to make the crucial build or buy decision in a case like ASI’s? In an email interview, co-founder of Sabalcore, John Van Workum was asked if there was any tension or cause for competitive concern between HPC on demand services like his company’s and a service like the newly-announced Cluster Compute Instances from Amazon, which are aimed at the same market—those who require HPC-like capacity to run complex or particularly resource-hungry applications. Van Workum stated:

Providers like Amazon have the advantage when it comes to sheer size. They have vast web, storage, and compute resources that a user can tap into. But, HPC boils down to performance. How fast will my application run and how much will it cost are the two biggest questions. It will be interesting to see if Amazon’s new HPC instances will be popular with the HPC user base community.

Because of Amazon’s virtualization layers, the end user is not getting near 100% of the bare-metal performance from a server. Their upgraded 10GigE network for the  HPC instances is an improvement over previous offerings, but DDR and QDR InfiniBand are proven faster. Also, I believe Amazon has restrictions in place when it comes to the number of cores an HPC instance can have at any given time.  Sabalcore, on the other-hand, has a purpose built HPC systems with very few restrictions. Of course, customer service and technical support sets us apart from large HPC cloud providers.

HPC On-Demand Versus an HPC Cloud

ASI like many other small to mid-sized enterprises who have occasional spikes in need for HPC resources are faced with the decision between building or buying time. Performing a careful cost analysis of such a decision is difficult and fraught with uncertainty for new users when there is a cloud option available to contend with as well. However, the problem is that many HPC on-demand companies like Sabalcore are taking the cloud approach with their marketing message and might be adding to confusion by muddling the concept of what a cloud is—and is not.

In fact, the very term “cloud” is problematic for a company like Sabalcore since what they’re providing is not really a cloud at all. While they certainly recognize this, companies with essentially the same offerings are putting the word “cloud” on HPC on-demand services, which adds to confusion, especially for new users who are far more concerned with keeping with their research and time-to-market goals than arguing over complex, hotly-debated definitions. In Van Workum’s view;

Cloud is such a broad term and it’s definition has been discussed in detail and I don’t believe it has one, all encompassing, definition.

One could consider us cloud simply because we host services on the internet. But it pretty much ends there. HPC has very little to do with web-based desktop tools, virtual storage, virtual servers, cloud files, and nebulous virtual  environments which are synonymous with “cloud” these days. We are none of those things either. So therefore we avoid using the term “cloud” when describing Sabalcore.

With this in mind, Workum also provided some commentary on those who are offering the same HPC on-demand service and how a company can differentiate itself in the face of new cloud offerings and competitors. While his detailed response is below, it should be noted that he hits on exactly the same core themes that have emerged in recent conversations with companies like Penguin about its P.O.D service, rSystems, and a host of others. On Sabalcore and the landscape for HPC on-demand companies Workum noted:

HPC users that are familiar with traditional Linux cluster environments will find our environment very similar. We have a very low learning curve. The end user is not hassled by managing instances, insufficient web interfaces, or third party products. Often, a customer is running their job in a matter of hours after logging in for the first time.

Not every application fits nicely into an HPC environment. We provide each new customer with adequate evaluation time and hand holding assistance should they require it.

Our engineers have experience working with hundreds of different applications and can usually make the required modifications in a matter of hours. It is important to note that we almost always adjust the customer’s computing environment in such a way that the changes are as transparent as possible to the customer. It is very uncommon for us to require that the customer make more than superficial changes to their applications or data. But when that does occur, we have the experience to either do it for them or to guide them with the modifications.

Experience and exceptional technical and customer support define us. Sabalcore is a 100% HPC as a service provider and has been since its inception in 2000. We focus solely on our service rather than also selling hardware unlike some recent HPC cloud participants.

In his line of thinking, the cloud is hindered by its lack of support, which is part of the reason why some companies opt for HPC on-demand services versus a public cloud like Amazon’s EC2—even with its new HPC-geared instance type.

Sabalcore has experienced solid growth in the last four years, in part because it has been able to appeal to those who rejected the cloud as an option and who have certainly rejected the option of investing in their own clusters for more obvious reasons. As the cloud, especially public cloud offerings, are developed to be more in tune with the needs of companies like ASI, however, the cloud might push HPC on-demand providers to emphasize even more fervently the support and personalization aspects that go hand-in-hand with their alternative.

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!

TACC Helps ROSIE Bioscience Gateway Expand its Impact

April 26, 2017

Biomolecule structure prediction has long been challenging not least because the relevant software and workflows often require high-end HPC systems that many bioscience researchers lack easy access to. Read more…

By John Russell

Messina Update: The US Path to Exascale in 16 Slides

April 26, 2017

Paul Messina, director of the U.S. Exascale Computing Project, provided a wide-ranging review of ECP’s evolving plans last week at the HPC User Forum in Santa Fe, NM. Read more…

By John Russell

IBM, Nvidia, Stone Ridge Claim Gas & Oil Simulation Record

April 25, 2017

IBM, Nvidia, and Stone Ridge Technology today reported setting the performance record for a “billion cell” oil and gas reservoir simulation. Read more…

By John Russell

ASC17 Makes Splash at Wuxi Supercomputing Center

April 24, 2017

A record-breaking twenty student teams plus scores of company representatives, media professionals, staff and student volunteers transformed a formerly empty hall inside the Wuxi Supercomputing Center into a bustling hub of HPC activity, kicking off day one of 2017 Asia Student Supercomputer Challenge (ASC17). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Remote Visualization Optimizing Life Sciences Operations and Care Delivery

As patients continually demand a better quality of care and increasingly complex workloads challenge healthcare organizations to innovate, investing in the right technologies is key to ensuring growth and success. Read more…

Groq This: New AI Chips to Give GPUs a Run for Deep Learning Money

April 24, 2017

CPUs and GPUs, move over. Thanks to recent revelations surrounding Google’s new Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), the computing world appears to be on the cusp of a new generation of chips designed specifically for deep learning workloads. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Musk’s Latest Startup Eyes Brain-Computer Links

April 21, 2017

Elon Musk, the auto and space entrepreneur and severe critic of artificial intelligence, is forming a new venture that reportedly will seek to develop an interface between the human brain and computers. Read more…

By George Leopold

MIT Mathematician Spins Up 220,000-Core Google Compute Cluster

April 21, 2017

On Thursday, Google announced that MIT math professor and computational number theorist Andrew V. Sutherland had set a record for the largest Google Compute Engine (GCE) job. Sutherland ran the massive mathematics workload on 220,000 GCE cores using preemptible virtual machine instances. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NERSC Cori Shows the World How Many-Cores for the Masses Works

April 21, 2017

As its mission, the high performance computing center for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, NERSC (the National Energy Research Supercomputer Center), supports a broad spectrum of forefront scientific research across diverse areas that includes climate, material science, chemistry, fusion energy, high-energy physics and many others. Read more…

By Rob Farber

Messina Update: The US Path to Exascale in 16 Slides

April 26, 2017

Paul Messina, director of the U.S. Exascale Computing Project, provided a wide-ranging review of ECP’s evolving plans last week at the HPC User Forum in Santa Fe, NM. Read more…

By John Russell

ASC17 Makes Splash at Wuxi Supercomputing Center

April 24, 2017

A record-breaking twenty student teams plus scores of company representatives, media professionals, staff and student volunteers transformed a formerly empty hall inside the Wuxi Supercomputing Center into a bustling hub of HPC activity, kicking off day one of 2017 Asia Student Supercomputer Challenge (ASC17). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Groq This: New AI Chips to Give GPUs a Run for Deep Learning Money

April 24, 2017

CPUs and GPUs, move over. Thanks to recent revelations surrounding Google’s new Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), the computing world appears to be on the cusp of a new generation of chips designed specifically for deep learning workloads. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

NERSC Cori Shows the World How Many-Cores for the Masses Works

April 21, 2017

As its mission, the high performance computing center for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, NERSC (the National Energy Research Supercomputer Center), supports a broad spectrum of forefront scientific research across diverse areas that includes climate, material science, chemistry, fusion energy, high-energy physics and many others. Read more…

By Rob Farber

Hyperion (IDC) Paints a Bullish Picture of HPC Future

April 20, 2017

Hyperion Research – formerly IDC’s HPC group – yesterday painted a fascinating and complicated portrait of the HPC community’s health and prospects at the HPC User Forum held in Albuquerque, NM. HPC sales are up and growing ($22 billion, all HPC segments, 2016). Read more…

By John Russell

Knights Landing Processor with Omni-Path Makes Cloud Debut

April 18, 2017

HPC cloud specialist Rescale is partnering with Intel and HPC resource provider R Systems to offer first-ever cloud access to Xeon Phi "Knights Landing" processors. The infrastructure is based on the 68-core Intel Knights Landing processor with integrated Omni-Path fabric (the 7250F Xeon Phi). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CERN openlab Explores New CPU/FPGA Processing Solutions

April 14, 2017

Through a CERN openlab project known as the ‘High-Throughput Computing Collaboration,’ researchers are investigating the use of various Intel technologies in data filtering and data acquisition systems. Read more…

By Linda Barney

DOE Supercomputer Achieves Record 45-Qubit Quantum Simulation

April 13, 2017

In order to simulate larger and larger quantum systems and usher in an age of “quantum supremacy,” researchers are stretching the limits of today’s most advanced supercomputers. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Pulls Back the Covers on Its First Machine Learning Chip

April 6, 2017

This week Google released a report detailing the design and performance characteristics of the Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), its custom ASIC for the inference phase of neural networks (NN). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Read more…

By John Russell

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the campaign. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its assets. 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

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

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

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a new board design for NVLink-equipped Pascal P100 GPUs that will create another entrant to the space currently occupied by Nvidia's DGX-1 system, IBM's "Minsky" platform and the Supermicro SuperServer (1028GQ-TXR). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which will be Japan’s “fastest AI supercomputer,” Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling was pretty much the exclusive realm of the Cray-2 and IBM mainframe class products. That’s changing. We are now seeing an emergence of x86 class server products with exotic plumbing technology ranging from Direct-to-Chip to servers and storage completely immersed in a dielectric fluid. Read more…

By Steve Campbell

IBM Wants to be “Red Hat” of Deep Learning

January 26, 2017

IBM today announced the addition of TensorFlow and Chainer deep learning frameworks to its PowerAI suite of deep learning tools, which already includes popular offerings such as Caffe, Theano, and Torch. 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

Facebook Open Sources Caffe2; Nvidia, Intel Rush to Optimize

April 18, 2017

From its F8 developer conference in San Jose, Calif., today, Facebook announced Caffe2, a new open-source, cross-platform framework for deep learning. Caffe2 is the successor to Caffe, the deep learning framework developed by Berkeley AI Research and community contributors. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural network training and now they are sharing their implementation with the larger deep learning community. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

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