Cost Issues at Heart of HPC Cloud Debate

By Nicole Hemsoth

March 28, 2011

A recent symposium on high-performance computing touched on the viability and expense behind HPC clouds, noting that sometimes clouds that are crunching on HPC workloads might be far more cost-effective when following a private cloud model.

According to Rutrell Yasin, who reported on the event for Government Computer News, cloud computing for HPC is likely to be far more expensive when used in the public cloud or IaaS sense. Yasin’s argument was based on the experiences leaders from Lawrence Berkeley Natinal Lab (LBNL), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discussed at the symposium.

LBNL has been at the forefront of cloud computing research for HPC workloads and has benchmarked both performance and cost for a number of workload types.

Kathy Yelick from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab noted that while EC2 is a competitive offering in terms of performance, even in terms of the university’s own private cloud, Magellan, the pricing is far from equivalent. Yelick claimed that EC2 would cost roughly 20 cents per CPU hour whereas their own lab runs workloads on its private cloud for approximately two cents per hour.

Almost a year ago we interviewed Yelick about the benchmarking effort and its outcomes and discussed what some of the best use cases for public clouds were likely to be.  From what we can gather, in the time between that initial interview and the unnamed symposium Yasin described, there have not been any significant changes in terms of performance or prince, with external clouds being far more expensive.

Certainly the markup on Amazon’s side (or any other infrastructure provider) is more extensive than some might like to think but for high-performance computing, this kind of price comparison—or at least rough benchmarks to determine the equivalency—are especially important. Still, comparing cloud services versus something that requires a massive initial capital outlay falls into the “apples vs. oranges” category.

What was not addressed on the price front, however, is that cost comparisons of private or internal clouds is a different animal than comparing the price of IaaS services. After all, with one you have significant up-front investment to factor into the equation whereas with the more expensive public cloud service, you are paying for the use of existing resources without any capital at the onset.

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