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!

AWS Embraces FPGAs, ‘Elastic’ GPUs

December 2, 2016

A new instance type rolled out this week by Amazon Web Services is based on customizable field programmable gate arrays that promise to strike a balance between performance and cost as emerging workloads create requirements often unmet by general-purpose processors. Read more…

By George Leopold

AWS Launches Massive 100 Petabyte ‘Sneakernet’

December 1, 2016

Amazon Web Services now offers a way to move data into its cloud by the truckload. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Weekly Twitter Roundup (Dec. 1, 2016)

December 1, 2016

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

HPC Career Notes (Dec. 2016)

December 1, 2016

In this monthly feature, we’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high performance computing community. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

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

IBM and NSF Computing Pioneer Erich Bloch Dies at 91

November 30, 2016

Erich Bloch, a computational pioneer whose competitive zeal and commercial bent helped transform the National Science Foundation while he was its director, died last Friday at age 91. Bloch was a productive force to be reckoned. During his long stint at IBM prior to joining NSF Bloch spearheaded development of the “Stretch” supercomputer and IBM’s phenomenally successful System/360. Read more…

By John Russell

Pioneering Programmers Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

November 30, 2016

In an awards ceremony on November 22, President Barack Obama recognized 21 recipients with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation’s highest civilian honor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Seagate-led SAGE Project Delivers Update on Exascale Goals

November 29, 2016

Roughly a year and a half after its launch, the SAGE exascale storage project led by Seagate has delivered a substantive interim report – Data Storage for Extreme Scale. Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Launches Massive 100 Petabyte ‘Sneakernet’

December 1, 2016

Amazon Web Services now offers a way to move data into its cloud by the truckload. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Seagate-led SAGE Project Delivers Update on Exascale Goals

November 29, 2016

Roughly a year and a half after its launch, the SAGE exascale storage project led by Seagate has delivered a substantive interim report – Data Storage for Extreme Scale. Read more…

By John Russell

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

HPE-SGI to Tackle Exascale and Enterprise Targets

November 22, 2016

At first blush, and maybe second blush too, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) purchase of SGI seems like an unambiguous win-win. SGI’s advanced shared memory technology, its popular UV product line (Hanna), deep vertical market expertise, and services-led go-to-market capability all give HPE a leg up in its drive to remake itself. Bear in mind HPE came into existence just a year ago with the split of Hewlett-Packard. The computer landscape, including HPC, is shifting with still unclear consequences. One wonders who’s next on the deal block following Dell’s recent merger with EMC. Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Details AI Hardware Strategy for Post-GPU Age

November 21, 2016

Last week at SC16, Intel revealed its product roadmap for embedding its processors with key capabilities and attributes needed to take artificial intelligence (AI) to the next level. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

SC Says Farewell to Salt Lake City, See You in Denver

November 18, 2016

After an intense four-day flurry of activity (and a cold snap that brought some actual snow flurries), the SC16 show floor closed yesterday (Thursday) and the always-extensive technical program wound down today. 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

Why 2016 Is the Most Important Year in HPC in Over Two Decades

August 23, 2016

In 1994, two NASA employees connected 16 commodity workstations together using a standard Ethernet LAN and installed open-source message passing software that allowed their number-crunching scientific application to run on the whole “cluster” of machines as if it were a single entity. Read more…

By Vincent Natoli, Stone Ridge Technology

IBM Advances Against x86 with Power9

August 30, 2016

After offering OpenPower Summit attendees a limited preview in April, IBM is unveiling further details of its next-gen CPU, Power9, which the tech mainstay is counting on to regain market share ceded to rival Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Think Fast – Is Neuromorphic Computing Set to Leap Forward?

August 15, 2016

Steadily advancing neuromorphic computing technology has created high expectations for this fundamentally different approach to computing. 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

HPE Gobbles SGI for Larger Slice of $11B HPC Pie

August 11, 2016

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced today that it will acquire rival HPC server maker SGI for $7.75 per share, or about $275 million, inclusive of cash and debt. The deal ends the seven-year reprieve that kept the SGI banner flying after Rackable Systems purchased the bankrupt Silicon Graphics Inc. for $25 million in 2009 and assumed the SGI brand. Bringing SGI into its fold bolsters HPE's high-performance computing and data analytics capabilities and expands its position... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ARM Unveils Scalable Vector Extension for HPC at Hot Chips

August 22, 2016

ARM and Fujitsu today announced a scalable vector extension (SVE) to the ARMv8-A architecture intended to enhance ARM capabilities in HPC workloads. Fujitsu is the lead silicon partner in the effort (so far) and will use ARM with SVE technology in its post K computer, Japan’s next flagship supercomputer planned for the 2020 timeframe. This is an important incremental step for ARM, which seeks to push more aggressively into mainstream and HPC server markets. Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Debuts Power8 Chip with NVLink and Three New Systems

September 8, 2016

Not long after revealing more details about its next-gen Power9 chip due in 2017, IBM today rolled out three new Power8-based Linux servers and a new version of its Power8 chip featuring Nvidia’s NVLink interconnect. Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

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

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

Intel Launches Silicon Photonics Chip, Previews Next-Gen Phi for AI

August 18, 2016

At the Intel Developer Forum, held in San Francisco this week, Intel Senior Vice President and General Manager Diane Bryant announced the launch of Intel's Silicon Photonics product line and teased a brand-new Phi product, codenamed "Knights Mill," aimed at machine learning workloads. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

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

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

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

Micron, Intel Prepare to Launch 3D XPoint Memory

August 16, 2016

Micron Technology used last week’s Flash Memory Summit to roll out its new line of 3D XPoint memory technology jointly developed with Intel while demonstrating the technology in solid-state drives. Micron claimed its Quantx line delivers PCI Express (PCIe) SSD performance with read latencies at less than 10 microseconds and writes at less than 20 microseconds. Read more…

By George Leopold

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