Cloudnumbers Expedites Cloud-Based Supercomputing

By Tiffany Trader

February 14, 2012

Configuring a cluster on a public cloud infrastructure such as Amazon Web Services potentially requires a lot of work. The various steps involve setting up the machines, dealing with the security keys, installing the applications, negotiating the administration, and more. Most HPC users would prefer to avoid this time-consuming process if possible. That’s where German startup Cloudnumbers comes in. The company provides everything the customer needs to get their HPC applications up and running in a matter of minutes. I recently had the chance to speak with Markus Schmidberger, Senior Community Manager for Cloudnumbers.com GmbH, to find out how.

The history of the Cloudnumbers goes back to Munich circa 2010, when company founders Erik Muttersbach, Markus Fensterer and Moritz v. Petersdorff-Campen began developing their idea for an HPC cloud environment. They contacted Markus Schmidberger in October 2010 after seeing his research on the topic, and further discussed the feasibility of moving HPC workloads to the cloud.

By the end of 2010, the group had written up a business plan and begun implementing a prototype. In March 2011, Cloudnumbers was founded with investment from angel investors. At that time, the company relocated from Munich to Berlin, Germany’s capital city. After an initial testing period of about two months, the company officially launched on July 4, 2011, providing a Web interface for computer clusters in the cloud. As of now, the company has over 1,300 registered users.

If you go to their website, you may notice a beta tag on their offering, but Schmidberger assures me this is a fully-functioning stable release. The beta designation has more to do with German law than any product short-comings. Based on German law, they would have to provide a level of security that is impractical at this stage. The beta label just makes it easier for them to operate in Europe, Schmidberger explained.

In case you’re concerned about security, the core functionality is the responsibility of the IaaS provider, but Cloudnumbers has added an extra security level on top of what Amazon uses. This means that all data are encrypted with 256 bit encryption and all connections between the local hardware and between the machines use SSL encryption. Despite these high levels of security, performance has not been affected in any significant way. It bears mentioning that all aspects of user authentication, personal data, passwords, billing and credit card information are located on a secure server in Germany and not in the cloud, in full compliance with safe harbor requirements.

Cloudnumbers does all the configuration of the computer cluster for their customers. Prospective users can point their browsers to the Web interface, where a five-step process results the configuration of a computer cluster. At that point, the cloud provider starts up the cluster and performs the complete install with all required applications. After that, the customer can access the cluster through any Web interface. “Everything is pre-installed so they don’t need any administration. Basically everything works out of the box,” Schmidberger explains. Setup takes about five minutes, and the entire configuration process takes between 6-10 minutes.

To use the service, customers only need to register with Cloudnumbers. They do not need a separate account with the public cloud provider, so there is only one bill. Every registered user gets five hours free, and after that the service costs about one dollar per hour per CPU. This is slightly more than what Amazon charges, but Cloudnumbers is providing something extra, a preinstalled cluster with preinstalled applications. While Cloudnumbers uses Amazon Web Services as their main Infrastructure-as-a-Service platform, they are currently adding resources from RackSpace and Eucalyptus, and are actively seeking to partner with smaller cloud providers as well.

Cloudnumbers offers pre-installed computer clusters in the cloud with pre-installed applications. Depending on their needs, users can select from R, OpenFoam, Python, Fortan, C/C++, as well as Gromacs, BLAST, Freemat and Perl. These come with the associated libraries for parallel computing, such as all the MPI libraries and so on. “We do all the hard work for setting up the computer cluster in the cloud. It’s integrated in our interface,” notes Schmidberger.

In analyzing the behavior of their customers, Schmidberger finds that about one-third require one shared-memory machine with 8-cores and 64 GB of main memory, and the other two-thirds set up computer clusters with about 10-15 machines. If you look for competitors, you may come across Cycle Computing, which offers very large clusters. In Schmidberger’s experience, Cloudnumbers’ customers haven’t required machines this large. Their customers tend to be of the small-to-medium sized variety, and are thus well-suited to small-to-medium sized clusters. They care about getting their high-performance applications to run on these clusters, Schmidberger’s notes, but are not as interested in the learning the administration side.

With that in mind, it’s perhaps not surprising that many of their customers require consulting services to help ease the transition to the cloud. They want to know how to get their code running in the cloud and then how to get the best performance. Initially, Cloudnumbers only planned to offer the cloud product, consulting was not part of the original business plan. But after receiving numerous requests for assistance, a consulting service was added in October of last year. The bulk of the service involves simple programming support in the way of code optimization, tips and tricks. In most cases, the actual coding is performed by the customers.

“We provide the complete HPC-as-a-Service package for our customers,” Schmidberger says. “We have the support, we have the consulting, and we have the interface and the resources, which they can use.”

To illustrate the way the consulting process works, Schmidberger cites one of their most well-known customers, Gazprom Germania, a holding company for a range of international oil and gas companies. Gazprom has a lot of financial code for risk analysis, based on the statistics software R. Cloudnumbers worked with Gazprom to parallelize the code, with the actual implementation being performed by Gazprom statisticians. After that, Gazprom simply logged into the Cloudnumbers test account, confirmed everything was in order, then switched to on-demand billing and started working on the Cloudnumbers machines.

While some customers require the complete support package, most just log on and get a bill every month. For these, Cloudnumbers doesn’t even know what workloads they are running, nor do they need to know.

The initial premise for the company was to close the gap for high-performance computing in the cloud in Europe. To get into the market in Europe, and to that point, their majority of their customers are from the EU, but they have several from the US, several from China and India. The numbers break down to roughly one-third from Europe and the rest from everywhere else. The diverse customer base includes academia, industry, the finance sector, biology firms, and machine engineering outfits.

Asked whether customers have had any difficulty transferring initial data sets to the cloud, Schmidberger responded that bandwidth was not a problem since, again, the solution is designed for small-to-medium sized companies with average data sets in GB range, not on the level of TB. In fact, Schmidberger estimates they’ve never had a customer with more than 1-2 TB of data. So far, not one of their customers has complained that they’ve had a problem loading data from their local machine into the cloud.

On the somewhat sticky topic of whether HPC workloads are suitable for the cloud, Schmidberger is convinced of the merits of this approach. “While we will continue to require supercomputers for huge analysis runs,” he says “for the small-to-medium sized analysis, HPC works very well in the cloud.”

To get the customer perspective on this new cloud service, I reached out to Dr. Karsten Knothe, IT Project Manager for Gazprom Germania, mentioned earlier. Before moving to Cloudnumbers, Gazprom ran their workloads in-house on a simple desktop-PC with multicore processors. When they started thinking about transitioning to the cloud they briefly considered going directly to Amazon, but they needed more functionality. “For us it’s important to get not only a naked virtual machine but a configured cluster with the needed software installed,” Dr. Knothe comments.

Prior to the cloud transition, one calculation run would take more than 12 hours. “Now we do one calculation in about 15 minutes,” notes Dr. Knothe. Not only do they save time, but the solution allows them to do additional analysis by changing the parameters of their calculation.

Despite being satisfied with these benefits, Dr. Knothe mentioned that he would like to see a few additions to the product. Specifically, he has requested additional communication functions, so that starting and stopping sessions and finishing calculations would trigger an email notification.

Looking ahead, Schmidberger was excited to announce that Cloudnumbers is currently developing a hybrid cloud solution, which offers the promise of “perfect scalability.” Due to privacy or security concerns, many companies have chosen private clouds to run their analyses, but very often those companies have some workloads which would benefit from the cloud. A hybrid approach allows these companies to extend their private cloud with public cloud resources. Currently, the company has a prototype connection in place with Eucalyptus and Amazon, with a connection to OpenNebula in the works as well. A final release should be available soon.

“We set up a very generous framework in the background, which gives us the opportunity to connect to many different Infrastructure-as-a-Service providers,” Schmidberger stated. “So if we get a request from any customer that they have a private cloud running on whatever, we will be able to connect to this cloud within two months.”

As a new company, Cloudnumbers is proactive in seeking customer feedback, which should be good news to Gazprom.

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!

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

Intel Touts Silicon Spin Qubits for Quantum Computing

February 14, 2018

Debate around what makes a good qubit and how best to manufacture them is a sprawling topic. There are many insistent voices favoring one or another approach. Referencing a paper published today in Nature, Intel has offe Read more…

By John Russell

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

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…

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 to make it easier, faster and cheaper to train and run machi Read more…

By Doug Black

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

‘Next Generation’ Universe Simulation Is Most Advanced Yet

February 5, 2018

The research group that gave us the most detailed time-lapse simulation of the universe’s evolution in 2014, spanning 13.8 billion years of cosmic evolution, is back in the spotlight with an even more advanced cosmological model that is providing new insights into how black holes influence the distribution of dark matter, how heavy elements are produced and distributed, and where magnetic fields originate. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

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

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

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

2017 Gordon Bell Prize Finalists Named

October 23, 2017

The three finalists for this year’s Gordon Bell Prize in High Performance Computing have been announced. They include two papers on projects run on China’s Read more…

By John Russell

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