Halfway to the Cloud: Cluster Management as a Service

By Michael Feldman

August 26, 2010

A lot of high performance computing is liable to end up in public clouds in the coming years. Besides avoiding the initial capital outlay for an HPC system, one of the biggest attractions to external clouds is being able to foist cluster administration on someone else. Despite the plethora of cluster management tools available, dealing with the complexities of HPC clusters is still mostly an art. And because high performance computing is somewhat of a niche, the number of people that can honestly claim the title HPC system administrator is relatively small.

But what if you require an in-house HPC set-up, for whatever reason (security, need for specific hardware, cost benefit of continuous usage, etc.) and still don’t want to mess with the burden of cluster administration? It turns out there is an alternative.

A company called X-ISS offers a managed service that allows organizations to outsource system administration for in-house HPC clusters. Founded in 1993 by Deepak Khosla, X-ISS is a Houston-based IT management company that has been in the HPC management business for the last 10 years. They currently manage several thousand nodes across about 500 separate installations. Their HPC services product, appropriately named ManagedHPC, is mostly aimed at clusters between 4 and 256 nodes, but at least one customer has a system with a few thousand servers.

Apparently the company has made a decent business out their HPC services offering, which they characterize as “turnkey outsourced system management.” According to Khosla, X-ISS has been growing at 20 percent per year over the past five years.

The company’s pitch is that they let an organization focus on its core competency, whatever that domain happens to be, relieving the company of the bother of maintaining an HPC admin support staff. This is essentially the same advantage offered by the cloud model, but in this case, the infrastructure is customer-owned and on-site. The provided service manages all the hardware, cluster provisioning, and vendor support issues. If something goes wrong, the customer just calls up X-ISS or opens a ticket with them. “If you have people that are really interested in their core expertise, they can pretty much turn their cluster over to us,” says Khosla.

Cluster support is performed remotely for the most part, requiring someone on-site only to perform physical reboots when the machine gets really stubborn. Application submissions and restarts are also handled locally, in much the same way as a cloud scenario. But if a fan fails or a memory chip gets fried, X-ISS calls the appropriate vendor to get it swapped out. Then X-ISS will reprovision the system remotely to get the system back up and running. When new software or patches need to be installed, the company does this as well. Of course, the appropriate vendor maintenance contracts need to be in place; X-ISS just takes over the task of managing that support.

As part of the service, X-ISS analyzes system usage and generates quarterly reports. To do this, they employ their home-grown DecisionHPC software to perform the monitoring, tracking and reporting. DecisionHPC is also sold as a separate product, its commercial availability having been announced last week. As with the service itself, data collection and analysis is performed at an X-ISS facility, only requiring a tunnel to the HPC machine to execute remote commands.

The company sells its HPC service both directly and through partnerships. X-ISS teams with Tier 1 vendors like as IBM, Microsoft and Dell to offer managed HPC services on top of the vendor’s offering. According to Khosla, these vendors like that relationship because it removes a sale roadblock for fussy customers who might otherwise balk about having to add special admin support for a new cluster. X-ISS also deals directly with end users, especially in the oil & gas sector, taking advantage of its Houston locale to leverage that customer base.

ManagedHPC prices start at just over $1,000 per month for small clusters. The price calculation is based primarily on cluster size and the number of applications, but other factors, like special customer requirements and the environment, can also come into play. Khosla maintains this delivers good ROI for the customer since they don’t have to bring in a full-time admin who needs Linux or Windows-based HPC expertise. Adding specialized IT staff can be a scary prospect for customers, he says. They’d rather just treat these machines like mainframes that come pre-wrapped with support.

HPC usage has plenty of challenges, and system administration is just one of them. However, it’s worth pointing out that two of the most talked about pain points — the price of HPC hardware and its energy consumption — are actually trending in the customer’s favor. The cost of FLOPS is declining and number of FLOPS/watt is increasing. At the same time, the cost of cluster management support will probably keep rising, since it depends upon human labor. As such, X-ISS may have sweet spot for customers who aren’t yet ready for the cloud, but lack the expertise to support their own HPC systems.

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!

STEM-Trekker Badisa Mosesane Attends CERN Summer Student Program

June 27, 2017

Badisa Mosesane, an undergraduate scholar who studies computer science at the University of Botswana in Gaborone, recently joined other students from developing nations around the world in Geneva, Switzerland to particip Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake, STEM-Trek

The EU Human Brain Project Reboots but Supercomputing Still Needed

June 26, 2017

The often contentious, EU-funded Human Brain Project whose initial aim was fixed firmly on full-brain simulation is now in the midst of a reboot targeting a more modest goal – development of informatics tools and data/ Read more…

By John Russell

DOE Launches Chicago Quantum Exchange

June 26, 2017

While many of us were preoccupied with ISC 2017 last week, the launch of the Chicago Quantum Exchange went largely unnoticed. So what is such a thing? It is a Department of Energy sponsored collaboration between the Univ Read more…

By John Russell

UMass Dartmouth Reports on HPC Day 2017 Activities

June 26, 2017

UMass Dartmouth's Center for Scientific Computing & Visualization Research (CSCVR) organized and hosted the third annual "HPC Day 2017" on May 25th. This annual event showcases on-going scientific research in Massach Read more…

By Gaurav Khanna

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Creating a Roadmap for HPC Innovation at ISC 2017

In an era where technological advancements are driving innovation to every sector, and powering major economic and scientific breakthroughs, high performance computing (HPC) is crucial to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. Read more…

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “pre-exascale” award), parsed out additional information ab Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tsinghua Crowned Eight-Time Student Cluster Champions at ISC

June 22, 2017

Always a hard-fought competition, the Student Cluster Competition awards were announced Wednesday, June 21, at the ISC High Performance Conference 2017. Amid whoops and hollers from the crowd, Thomas Sterling presented t Read more…

By Kim McMahon

GPUs, Power9, Figure Prominently in IBM’s Bet on Weather Forecasting

June 22, 2017

IBM jumped into the weather forecasting business roughly a year and a half ago by purchasing The Weather Company. This week at ISC 2017, Big Blue rolled out plans to push deeper into climate science and develop more gran Read more…

By John Russell

Intersect 360 at ISC: HPC Industry at $44B by 2021

June 22, 2017

The care, feeding and sustained growth of the HPC industry increasingly is in the hands of the commercial market sector – in particular, it’s the hyperscale companies and their embrace of AI and deep learning – tha Read more…

By Doug Black

DOE Launches Chicago Quantum Exchange

June 26, 2017

While many of us were preoccupied with ISC 2017 last week, the launch of the Chicago Quantum Exchange went largely unnoticed. So what is such a thing? It is a D Read more…

By John Russell

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tsinghua Crowned Eight-Time Student Cluster Champions at ISC

June 22, 2017

Always a hard-fought competition, the Student Cluster Competition awards were announced Wednesday, June 21, at the ISC High Performance Conference 2017. Amid wh Read more…

By Kim McMahon

GPUs, Power9, Figure Prominently in IBM’s Bet on Weather Forecasting

June 22, 2017

IBM jumped into the weather forecasting business roughly a year and a half ago by purchasing The Weather Company. This week at ISC 2017, Big Blue rolled out pla Read more…

By John Russell

Intersect 360 at ISC: HPC Industry at $44B by 2021

June 22, 2017

The care, feeding and sustained growth of the HPC industry increasingly is in the hands of the commercial market sector – in particular, it’s the hyperscale Read more…

By Doug Black

At ISC – Goh on Go: Humans Can’t Scale, the Data-Centric Learning Machine Can

June 22, 2017

I've seen the future this week at ISC, it’s on display in prototype or Powerpoint form, and it’s going to dumbfound you. The future is an AI neural network Read more…

By Doug Black

Cray Brings AI and HPC Together on Flagship Supers

June 20, 2017

Cray took one more step toward the convergence of big data and high performance computing (HPC) today when it announced that it’s adding a full suite of big d Read more…

By Alex Woodie

AMD Charges Back into the Datacenter and HPC Workflows with EPYC Processor

June 20, 2017

AMD is charging back into the enterprise datacenter and select HPC workflows with its new EPYC 7000 processor line, code-named Naples, announced today at a “g Read more…

By John Russell

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. Just how close real-wo 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 cam 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 a 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 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

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

Nvidia’s Mammoth Volta GPU Aims High for AI, HPC

May 10, 2017

At Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference (GTC17) in San Jose, Calif., this morning, CEO Jensen Huang announced the company's much-anticipated Volta architecture a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Leading Solution Providers

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

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

Joint DOE-NSA report responds to the increased global pressures impacting the competitiveness of U.S. supercomputing. 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 Read more…

By Alex Woodie

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

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. Read more…

By John Russell

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

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